The excitement around Orlando City SC is at a fever pitch. It’s understandable. Many people have been waiting years for that first game at the new stadium. It was an emotional moment. It was fitting that the game had such emotional peaks and valleys as well.
OCSC won the game 1-0 after having just one shot on target, so that must mean it played great defense. The story of the game became the ‘stingy’ defense. But there is more nuance to it than that.
Since the defense got too much credit for the win. Now, it’ll get too much blame for the losses. Unfortunately, that’s just how it works.
The win over New York City FC was a great win. But just because it was a shutout, doesn’t mean that the defense was good. It was the first game of the season, so it’s not surprising NYCFC missed opportunities. OCSC gave up 14 shots, and Joe Bendik made six saves. The defense was under fire the whole game, but didn’t concede. It certainly bent, but never broke. The win was more about the defenders’ heart and willpower rather than good defensive play.
In the second victory over the Philadelphia Union, the defense still had issues. But the offense had more possession of the ball to cover for it. In the end, the Union had 14 shots, but only two were on target. OCSC won the game, but there was some good fortune involved with a shot in extra time ricocheting off the goal post.
This is not to discount the accomplishments of the team, but to temper expectations. There have been two nice home wins. But being at home, the first two games in a new stadium, there was an emotional edge that will fade as the season progresses. That emotion makes it hard to make any definitive assumptions based on those games.
OCSC did display some characteristics to be excited about. Good teams get points when they don’t play well. That is what OCSC did, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Orlando is already a good team. There is no need to put any undue pressure on the players by setting expectations.
The season is still young. It is too early to define the team. It has been fortunate thus far, but good teams get good fortune. Everything is pointing in the right direction, but success can’t be expected.
Despite the accolades that the defense has received, it must get better. If teams keep getting that many shots, they will eventually score more goals. As the season continues, tendencies will be exposed and clubs will play to weaknesses. The competition will get better, so the defense must as well.
Bendik can’t be expected to keep making those saves. He may make them, but it can’t be expected. OCSC must shore up the middle of its defense, so opponents can’t get those shots off.
OCSC is bound to improve because it expects players to return. Once the injured players return, the club must find the right mix. This is a marathon and not a sprint. The goal is to peak at the end of the season. But it will take time.
Everyone needs to remember it’s about the long term. As the competition increases, the results may not be what some expect. It’s not necessarily all about the results now, but the growth that the squad shows. How the defense is playing in the summer will determine how the season should be viewed.