In the club’s final tune-up match before it hosts New York City FC next Sunday to kick off the MLS regular season, Orlando City invited USL side St. Louis FC to Orlando City Stadium in the first unofficial match at the new grounds.
In front of roughly 150 spectators, not including media and staff, echoes of final construction efforts could be heard off on the opposite side of the stadium, simultaneous to Jason Kreis’ final efforts of building his vision heading into the season.
Thanks to an opening goal from Kaká and a brace from Cyle Larin, Orlando City cruised to victory, 3-1, in the final preseason game before everything starts to count next week.
“Mostly,” Kreis said when asked if he got through everything he wanted to this preseason.
“Probably the biggest downfall is to lose a player to injury again,” he said, mentioning Tony Rocha, who left the match about midway through the second half with an undisclosed injury. “So it’ll be our third outside back to be injured in the span of a few weeks for us, so we have a difficult task ahead.”
Before I go any further, I must stress the fact this was both a preseason match, and against a USL side. Now, with that said, Orlando City looked very good in its preseason final this afternoon.
The Lions came out of the gates firing, finding the first goal less than five minutes after the kickoff.
Kaká went down just a couple of yards north of the south penalty area, securing a free kick from about 20 yards out. And just as he did with Orlando City’s first goal in MLS in 2015, the Brazilian captain slipped his shot through the wall set up by the St. Louis defenders and put up the first goal in Orlando City Stadium history in the fourth minute.
Carlos Rivas, who started up top as one of the two forwards with Larin, looked sharp throughout the evening, using his speed to a distinct advantage against the group of USL defenders. In the 15th minute, he bolted past a defender, setting up a 1v1 with the goalkeeper before firing a close-range shot low and to the right of the net. He had a goal waved off nine minutes later due to an offside call.
Hardly a minute later, Rivas hit Larin with a low cross from the right side, and the Canadian polished it off to make it a 2-0 game.
St. Louis nearly found the net in the 21st, but the visitors were denied by the hands of Joe Bendik the first time, then the post on the rebound attempt, before the third effort was sent over the goal and into the empty supporters’ section behind the net.
Orlando City’s offense looked to be well in sync. Matias Perez Garcia used some slick moves in the 32nd minute to flick a ball forward to Kaká inside the penalty area. The Brazilian was able to beat the goalkeeper to the ball, but was denied on his shot attempt.
Up top, Larin and Rivas were really clicking throughout the night. Moments after Kaká’s near goal, Larin found Rivas above the box. The Colombian moved a few yards forward before ripping a shot off from around 20 yards out, but sent it off target. Two minutes later, the two reversed roles and recreated their first combination goal. Rivas used his speed, spinning off a defender on a punted ball forward, then sent a hard low cross into the box for Larin, who finished for his second goal of the evening, pushing the score to 3-0.
“Well, I think that tonight they really looked for each other,” Kreis said of the Larin-Rivas duo. “They both looked extremely dangerous, got themselves in some really good positions for us, and we’ll look to them to continue to do that. As we’ve said, we’re looking to play with two strikers, and we’ve made it pretty clear of that, and we’re looking to put some defensive teams into a tough spot.”
St. Louis had a small handful of chances, but never really gave Bendik too much to worry about in goal, with the Lions’ defense — much talked about throughout the off-season after last season’s major struggles — holding the St. Louis attack in check for most of the match. This was right up until St. Louis grabbed a goal back in the 89th on a beautiful 25-yard volley, beating Bendik to end the clean-sheet effort.
“All in all good,” Kreis said of the Lions’ defensive showing. “I still think there’s going to be a couple of things we need to talk about, as there is in any game. To give away the last goal late in the game was very disappointing, and on a free kick, and I’m guessing there’s an organization issue that we can’t get pressure to that ball. So we’ll continue talking, and we’re after perfect here, no doubt about it.”
With the preseason slate of games in the books, the team now heads into its final week of preparation with the MLS season ready to open this week.