After two weeks of hard work in the preseason, Orlando City finally had its first taste of action Saturday afternoon, as the Lions played a training scrimmage against Jacksonville University. The 5-0 win is not the most important takeaway of the activity, as the team had a handful of new faces on the field for the first time and the Dolphins clearly don’t match the level of opposition the Lions will face throughout the year.
“A lot of positive stuff defensively that we’ve been working on, which led to some goal-scoring chances,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the scrimmage. “I wish we’d been a little bit more clinical in front of the goal, but it is still very early on the preseason. I wanted to see whether we were understanding and buying into defensive concepts that we wanted for the team. It looks good so far.”
Major League Soccer’s opening game is still a month away and the Lions have four more tests (scrimmages or friendlies) on their schedule before it, all expected to be more demanding, so a lot can change before then, as Kreis is supposed to make several experiments before the season officially starts.
Even though the starting lineup and the substitutions were not made available, it was possible to jump to some interesting conclusions about Orlando City’s first game of the season:
Spector is Ready to Go
Considered by many Orlando City’s most important acquisition, center back Jonathan Spector started the scrimmage and scored the first goal for the Lions against the Dolphins. Spector came to Orlando with the responsibility of helping to fix the team’s back line and it’s refreshing to know that his shape is good enough to allow him to start the first game of preseason.
Even though Spector joined preseason later than his teammates, it is not a shock to see he’s is in a good form as he was playing consistently for Birmingham City until mid-January when he signed with the Lions. A lot of work needs to be done with the defender, though, as now he’s expected to play continuously for 16 months, until the end of the MLS season in December (yes, December, because obviously Orlando City is going to MLS Cup).
Ramos Starts at Right Back
Recovered from the hamstring injury that sidelined him for part of the 2016 season, Rafael Ramos was the starting right back over Kevin Alston, who finished last year as the incumbent. While the Portuguese is more of an offensive-minded player, the American veteran provides a more steady presence defensively.
This move, if confirmed, seems like one that needed to be made by Kreis. With Kevin Molino’s departure, the Lions apparently don’t possess a natural right winger and will demand more offensive contribution from the right back to create chances. Ramos is arguably capable of providing it and showed it in the scrimmage, assisting Spector and Kaká on the first two goals.
Rivas and Barry Found the Back of the Net
It’s no secret that Cyle Larin is the undisputed starter at the striker positon. It’s also largely known as well that the 21-year-old Canadian doesn’t have a clear backup within the roster since Brazilian Julio Baptista left the club in the end of 2016.
However, that could be changing as both Carlos Rivas and Hadji Barry, two forwards that — if they develop — could not only replace Larin when he’s out but also play alongside him, scored goals. Obviously, finding the back of the net against the Dolphins is much different than succeeding in MLS, but a hot start could provide both youngster, especially Rivas, who has failed to live up to the expectations so far, the confidence necessary to progress.