Going into their third MLS season, Orlando City fans were pretty optimistic. They had hope that Jason Kreis could improve the team with his first preseason in Orlando. The club’s new acquisitions like Jonathon Spector and Will Johnson gave hope — even if the sale of Kevin Molino left many fans unhappy. Nevertheless, supporters couldn't wait for the start of the new MLS season to see the Lions in action. The first two games went well, as Orlando City got two wins in its brand new stadium. To make matters even better, the club did all of this— except for 10 minutes— without star Designated Player Kaká.
However, this weekend, Orlando City was handed its first loss of the season at the hands of Crew SC in Columbus. The goals both came from winger Justin Meram off of two perfectly placed shots to the far post. After the game, many Lions fans were left very disappointed. A lot of us expected the Lions to continue their good form and maybe grind out a draw. It would have been a good point too as the Crew were in good form as well after beating the league-leading Portland Timbers at home. Of course, it didn't turn out that way and the score line wasn't the only thing to worry about.
Let's start with the defense. I'll start here since it is the lesser of two negatives. In fact, the defense was actually quite solid for most of the game. But as we all know, defenses are judged not by their highs, but by their lows, and in this game there were a few lows. The biggest problem Orlando had on the night was that Columbus had far too much success coming from the wing. Position-wise, Johnson had perhaps his worst game of the season. Of course, he is playing out of position at right back but he had looked pretty comfortable in the previous matches. Ethan Finley also gave Donny Toia some trouble and was able to whip a few crosses in. Luckily, Aja, Spector, and Redding were great in the air on the night.
As mentioned before, the defense wasn't that bad. It was the attack that was the biggest concern. After Kaká went down so early in the season, most people probably thought it would be a rough few weeks without him in terms of the attacking unit. This weekend, fans saw a glimpse of those expectations. Though Orlando City did have its fair share of shots, throughout the game most of the opportunities were squandered.
The epitome of this was when Carlos Rivas found himself in acres of space outside of the 18 and blasted the ball into Row Z — although we should probably be anticipating that by now. Rivas and MPG often found space and would make rushed decisions and concede possession. Other than this flaw, the Lions also didn't seem to flow as an offense. Every time they had the ball, it didn't seem as if the players believed they could score.
Now, while all of this is worrying, it’s no reason to panic. There are three main reasons why Lions fans should still be optimistic about this season: Orlando still has six points from three games, Kaká is coming back, and the performance wasn't actually as bad as it seemed.
The first reason is pretty self explanatory. Two wins and a loss away from home is definitely a solid way to start the season. Perhaps fans didn't want the club to lose in this fashion, but Orlando is still in great shape in terms of the table.
Also, Kaká will be back. When he went down, fans went into "weathering the storm" mode but ended up with a record they would have been proud of regardless. It has been especially great to see a partnership emerging between Cyle Larin and Rivas. The expectation is that when Kaká comes back, Orlando will gain an added option for how it pursue its goals. Of course, goals come from other places but getting Kaká back and pulling the strings again will definitely improve the team.
For the third reason, let’s revisit the latest match. I know that I've pointed out a lot of negatives, but it wasn't all bad. Spector had another strong performance in the back. I think Spector and Bendik will actually be the most important players this season. The problem has always been defense and it seems so far like they can help change that. Giles Barnes also looked lively. It remains to be seen what role he'll take when Kaká returns, but he will be important in the next few games. Lastly, the team looked pretty organized against Crew SC. With organization, a much-improved back line, and Kaká coming back, a playoff run looks within sights.