We've talked before about how calls tend to even out in the long run. If that happens, the end of the 2016 MLS season is going to be lit for Orlando City. PRO officials inserted themselves again in yesterday's eventual 2-2 draw against the New England Revolution.
Unfortunately, an insane handball call against Servando Carrasco by Baldomero Toledo allowed Lee Nguyen to tie the match in the sixth minute of stoppage time and two more points were pissed away against an Eastern Conference opponent. At least the Lions continue to gain points for the most part, whereas last season these results were generally losses.
Here are my five takeaways from a draw that was just seconds from a win.
PRO Referees Simply Aren't Good Enough
Look, I'm going to say this right up front: we're not the only ones unhappy with the officiating this season. Ask Revs fans about their season to date. Ask Portland fans what they thought of the Nigel de Jong tackle on Darlington Nagbe. Brutal calls are a part of the game but they're happening at an alarming rate in MLS. This section is not meant as a "blame the refs for an outcome" rant, but rather to simply say we as fans are not getting the quality of officiating in general that this game deserves.
The quality of officiating is hurting this league and perhaps it's time for the United States to firmly step to the forefront of a movement toward using video replay out of necessity. It's understandable when a referee misses something that happens on the field, because you can't see everything while running and trying to see through a forest of bodies. However, it's inexcusable to have a great view of something and call it what it isn't, as Toledo did with the "handball" on Servando Carrasco that allowed the Revs to pull back a goal at the end.
Here's the play in stills:
Carrasco's arm is out from his body but it's behind him. His chest is between the ball and his arm. It hits him just about in the team crest or slightly above. My understanding of human anatomy is limited but that's not the hand or the arm.
And here it is in motion:
And here's your daily dose of controversy. pic.twitter.com/TSHjUNcgSB— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 17, 2016
Toledo not only called this a handball when Carrasco's trailing arm was fully behind him, but he also originally called it outside the area, then later awarded a penalty, which is ludicrous, almost unheard of, and makes me feel stabby [/removes all sharp objects from the room]. This is an official who needs to get a few weeks off and perhaps get his eye prescription checked.
Teal Bunbury gave Tommy Redding a two-handed shove to the back to free himself up for the first Revs goal, off a corner that maybe should have been a goal kick, but again, it's much more understandable when things get missed than when you fully see something and then incomprehensibly turn it into something else before it gets to your brain.
Brek Shea Can Defend
Orlando's left back wasn't perfect by any means, and did have a couple of turnovers, but I thought he did a great job defending down the left side through the first half. Shea didn't get forward much until the second half, owing mainly to New England's 58% possession in the first 45 minutes, but Shea made several vital challenges to break up play and protect the Lions from a few Antonio Nocerino turnovers that could otherwise have been much more dangerous. Solid game from a player that continues to get better at left back and he steered clear of anything card worthy.
The Beast Has Arrived
Julio Baptista made a mark just 15 seconds into his first start for Orlando City, spinning between two defenders before being stepped on from behind and earning an early penalty, which Kaká calmly slotted home. Baptista had trouble getting service in the first half, but truly showed his value in the second half after moving to center attacking midfield behind Cyle Larin, with the captain out wide to the left and Molino to the right. Baptista facilitated quite well and the Lions were the much more dangerous team with that shape and lineup. Even when he was gassed, the Brazilian still helped move the ball through the middle and out wide to fullbacks Kevin Alston -- making his first Orlando City appearance for an injured Rafael Ramos (hamstring) -- and midfielders Kaká and Molino.
Nocerino Hasn't Arrived
While Baptista was as good as advertised in his first match, Italian midfielder Antonio Nocerino continues to struggle finding his game in MLS. His turnovers are of the most egregious kind and for the second consecutive game he fouled just outside the box to set up a dangerous free kick. He did seem to play better in the second half, however, and nearly atoned for his earlier mistakes with a wonderful curling shot from outside the box that Bobby Shuttleworth was just able to save. Nocerino's skills have been only rarely glimpsed thus far but if he's going to remain a first-team selection, he simply must be better.
Kaká is Even Better Left of Center
Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath might have found his best lineup yesterday (aside from the fact that Cristian Higuita was missing due to a groin injury). Once Heath subbed out Adrian Winter and Carlos Rivas for Kevin Molino and Cyle Larin, Lions captain Kaká moved out to the left and Julio Baptista slotted in beneath Larin, with Molino out to the right. This move tilted the field in Orlando's favor. With three play makers across the attacking midfield, the Lions started finding holes all over the pitch in the New England defense. Kaká particularly became extremely dangerous from the left, looking much more comfortable, and the Brazilian was able to bring Brek Shea forward into the attack for the first time all match long.
Even Darwin Ceren, who had a mostly disappointing day in terms of his passing in the attacking half, started suddenly picking out passes to both his left and right, finding Kaká, Baptista, Molino and Shea with regularity. The offense was clicking and creating. It showed how good the Orlando City attack can be.
Bonus Takeaway: Best Lineup?
As I mentioned above, Sunday's final 30 minutes may have shown us the best available lineup while waiting for Higuita to return from injury. In addition to pushing Kaká into a more threatening and comfortable position, the substitutions provided Orlando with more dangerous attackers in the penalty area on corner kicks and free kicks, with Larin, Baptista and Seb Hines all giving the team size and strength on set pieces. The Lions were far more dangerous than when Rivas and Winter had been on the pitch. It was a potent lineup and if it started a match, it would allow Rivas and Winter to act as super subs, bringing them on when their energy and pace could be used to their greatest effect. The performance of that XI should at least give Heath something to think about.
Those are my takeaways from the match. What stuck out to you?