MELBOURNE, FL -- Your Orlando City Lions had their first game under Jason Kreis tonight in a relatively cool setting in front of a sellout crowd of 3,472 at Titan Soccer Complex. The friendly was exactly that, though it was filled with some positive and some learning moments for this rather interesting squad. In the end, Stoke City finished one more chance than the Lions to capture a 2-1 win over Orlando City.
Stoke City featured a star-studded lineup that rang true to their English nickname of "Stoke-alona", though they didn't feature Xhederdan Shaqiri or Ibrahim Affelay. However, Bojan Krkic and Giannelli Imbula did feature, along with big name Austrian Marko Arnuatovic and the towering Peter Crouch. Orlando City also fielded a relatively strong lineup featuring the likes of Cristian Higuita, Brek Shea, and Kevin Molino.
The game's first half didn't have much to talk about regarding action. All of the palpable action was a feature of the second half, though Jason Kreis did speak to that point after the game.
"The focus for this group right now, first and foremost for the next to weeks, is going to be squarely placed on the defending side of things," Kreis said. "For the first 45 minutes, the goal was reached, no goals against."
The second 45 is when the action started to happen, with mostly Orlando City B players replacing the senior squad regulars. Stoke played fearlessly through the lines and enjoyed a lot of success with it. It has to be said that Stoke has some great players on the roster, and the Potters' ability to control the ball in tight spaces was really what gave Orlando City a lot of trouble. Bojan and Arnautovic were linking up nicely in the middle, while Erik Pieters bombed up the left flank and tried to create some issues there.
The first Stoke goal was created by a fantastic three-pass play that caught Orlando City's midfield by surprise. The ball was switched very quickly from one side to the other by Pieters and Bojan, shifting the Orlando City back line into an advantageous position for Mame Diouf to get something on it. Earl Edwards did his best and was able to deflect the first shot, but was beaten by the same man on the rebound.
Stoke then relaxed a bit and were lax in their possessional play towards their end of the field. This gave Orlando the opportunity to pounce, and the Lions came close a few times with some incisive play through the middle. Throughout the second half, the word 'friendly' seemed to ring true in the Stoke engine room as the Potters meandered about, specifically Imbula. At first, it seemed odd, but it was something Stoke manager Mark Hughes touched on post match.
"We've only been back about two weeks, so obviously, the fitness levels weren't at the same level of Orlando City's, but they tested us," he said.
An exciting game ensued in which the Lions continually had success down the wing, specifically Orlando City youngster Hadji Barry. Barry's pace and willingness to go towards goal allowed him to score a classic inverted winger's goal to pull his team level in the 55th minute, and his thoughts only reflected his humble, hard-working attitude.
"Coming into this team as a young guy, I told myself everything I get this year is a bonus," Barry said. "Playing against these older guys has been a great learning experience for me."
Eventually, though, the quality of Stoke shined through as they pushed and pulled Orlando to their will, opening them up again and scoring. Though the second goal was due to a bad giveaway by Servando Carrasco; it was coming. Stoke was pulling Orlando out of its defensive press, and it was only a matter of time before someone like Bojan put one in the back of the net, which he did from 25 yards out in the 64th minute.
There were a few more half chances for Orlando but in the end, the Potters were able to keep possession down the stretch and see the game out.
The Lions will return to action Sunday night at Camping World Stadium, hosting the New England Revolution at 7:30 p.m.