Orlando City finds itself in first place in the Eastern Conference after its second straight win. Many teams struggle early in the season to find their form and create dangerous attacking situations. One year ago, the Lions found themselves on the wrong side of set pieces. Early losses to the Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United due to last-minute set pieces ended up costing Orlando City the points it needed to make the playoffs. Fast forward to this year and Orlando City is finding itself on the right side of set pieces offensively and defensively.
Kaká Delivers the Magic
Kaká has always been a wizard with set pieces and setting his teammates up for goals. The first goal against Portland on Sunday night was no exception.
This particular set piece starts out 35 to 40 yards from goal from the right side. Kaká, as a right-footed free kick taker, has a number of options kicking from this side. The in-swinging free kick is the most dangerous because it can be met by a run from many different locations. The key to the ball that Kaká plays is the pace and the location.
The ball has to be driven in low with spin. If the ball has any more height, the goalkeeper is given time to get to the cross. Kaká wants the in-swinging cross to freeze the goalkeeper and force him to make a poor decision.
The runs by the attackers aren't very special and neither is the defending by Portland. In fact, they leave Cyle Larin wide open and don't keep a consistent back line. The starting position by goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey makes me think he was going to stick to his line the whole time. Taking an initial step backwards, Kwarasey makes it tougher on himself to get set for the shot. I don't like his starting position -- he is too close to his goal for a set piece that is 35-40 yards out. Kaká isn't scoring from that far out, so Kwarasey could have a starting position near the top of the 6-yard box. If he is there, he easily handles the cross.
Watch as Kaká serves a world-class cross, how Hines gets inside of his man and places a header on frame. Hines' movement, Portland's weak defending, and Kwarasey's position are all factors that resulted in a beautiful first goal for Orlando.
Shockingly Good Refereeing
This might be the only time you see this from me, and I can't believe I am writing it. The refereeing was pretty good on Sunday. The officiating team with Alan Kelly as the referee had a great game, making correct decisions and showing some great teamwork on the Brek Shea handball.
U.S. Soccer Federation clarifies for its referee that the three criteria for a hand ball are: Does the player make himself bigger? Is the arm/hand in an "unnatural position?" And finally, did the player benefit? Brek Shea's handball fits all three criteria.
His arm is stretched out, making him bigger, and the arm is an unnatural position. He certainly benefits as the ball drops near his feet and his team is able to clear.
Watch as Kelly doesn't have a clear sight line for it but his assistant referee does and correctly signals for a penalty kick. The difference between a referee at the youth level and higher levels is the teamwork needed by the referee team.
The second penalty kick of the night was awarded to Kevin Molino after he was taken down in the box. After a brief scramble in the penalty area, Molino gets to the ball first and Portland midfielder Diego Chará gets to him and makes a good first tackle. The second lunge, though, is where Chará catches the leg of Molino and commits the foul. There is a Portland player on the goal line, so there isn't a need for a red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.
Watch as Kelly in a great position to make this call.
This will probably be the best refereeing we will see all year.
Saving the PK
Joe Bendik has seen two penalty kicks this year and has gotten his hands on both of them. One did result in a goal in the season opener against Real Salt Lake despite the touch, but he was able to make a save against Portland. Penalty kicks are always difficult for a goalkeeper to make a save on, as the odds are stacked against the keeper. Bendik's strategy looks like he favors a dive towards the side he feels more comfortable to, which is to his right. He has leapt right on the two penalties this year and also in matches against Columbus and Sporting KC, when he was a part of Toronto FC. I haven't found tape of him diving to his left on a penalty kick.
Fanendo Adi takes a weak penalty that Bendik does well to get down and make a huge save on.
On the flip side, Kwarasey wasn't able to make a save against Molino. It might help if he stands in the middle of the goal; if Kwarasey is in the center of the goal he might save this kick. The shot was struck with such pace that it may have been difficult, but still he is inches from the ball.
If the Lions can continue to excel on set pieces, they can grab extra valuable points over the course of the season, which could make all the difference at the end of the year.