Four wins after four tries at home and your Orlando City Lions are near the top of the East with a game in hand! Yesterday’s match had everything you want to see if you were wearing purple in the stadium that the national soccer media are starting to term “The Fortress.” Heroics from Will Johnson and Cyle Larin meant The Wall got to light the smoke twice on the way to a 2-1 victory. Here are five takeaways from Saturday’s game.
The Birthday Boy Can Celebrate
The enigma that is Carlos Rivas wrote a new chapter in his Orlando City story. He was pacey and dangerous all day long. His effort in the 18th minute would have been a goal for the ages had it not knocked the far post instead of the back of the net. This was the kind of game Rivas needed to continue to build on the promise pretty much everyone in Orlando City Stadium knows he has. There were some typical Rivas moments, including a shot so off target I hope he is blaming the wind. However, there were fewer of these moments and more of the speed and tenacity that put fear into the hearts of opposing defenders. The birthday boy earned both the “Rivas” chants and the standing ovation he received as he exited in the 75th minute.
Bendik and Spector: Superheroes without Capes
For everything that went right Saturday, Orlando still had to rely on heroic moments from both Joe Bendik and Jonathan Spector. The Lions’ defense had another solid outing and the unit continues to look cohesive, but against a team as talent laden as the LA Galaxy you can’t lose your assignments or take a play off. A number of spectacular moments from Bendik and Spector will continue to make them folk heroes among the Orlando faithful, but relying on them to have perfect games week in and week out can’t be part of the path to a successful season.
Hold the Ball, Dictate the Game
Orlando did a much better job of holding onto the ball. The club ended with 49.1% of the possession, but up from the 38.9% they had last week against the New York Red Bulls. A noticeable improvement. The ball moved across the field well, and attacks against the opposition goal didn’t feel as predictable as they have so far this season. More time on the ball also means the Lions aren’t defending for long spells and chasing the game to the point of exhaustion. Tactically, you can see Jason Kreis is starting to really implement the system he wants, and the players are buying in.
There was a slight drop-off when Cristian Higuita and Rivas left the field, but Orlando showed its depth. That is the sign of a good system, when you are able to substitute players in and things still run smoothly. Giving Luis Gil some time to settle in and the return of Matias Perez Garcia, Jose Aja, and Kaká will make this a really dangerous team.
“The Wall” is Part of a Fortress
You really can’t say enough about the environment inside Orlando City Stadium. Another sellout of 25,527, even if there were a few holes, created the noise comparable to what I’d imagine a million Africanized bees attacking sounds like. My ears are still ringing. If I ever meet the architects who designed this cauldron of noise and atmosphere, I’d like to buy them a beer. Saturday was another passionate outing for the Iron Lion Firm, the Ruckus, and their friends who make up The Wall. This season, more fans across the stadium are getting into the action with chants and rhythmic claps coming from sections beyond The Wall. The team on the field has been the real deal in these first four home games, but the intensity from the stands has been reciprocal. I’ve been attending games all around the world, from World Cups to European leagues, and I have to say the atmosphere inside Orlando City Stadium is something really, really special.
“Going to California With An Aching In (Their) Hearts”
Curt Onalfo and company will feel hard done to be flying west with nothing to show for his team’s efforts last night. Despite a good game from Orlando, the Galaxy kept it close and made the Lions fight for this one. This is a really talented Galaxy side that will compete for points all season long. The addition of Romain Alessandrini and Jermaine Jones to an already talented lineup means that anybody living in Los Angeles waiting around to support LAFC are as stupid as they are foolish. This team gave Orlando its toughest challenge at home yet, and I think beating a side this good says a lot about where the Lions can go this season.
That’s how I saw it. What did you think? How do you feel about the team over these first five games? Was this the best performance of the season?