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Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Five Takeaways

What did we learn from the Lions’ 2-0 win over the Black and Red on a soggy Central Florida evening?

Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

Orlando City needed 17 games to reach 23 points in 2015. In 2016, the Lions didn’t reach 23 points until after the 20th game. This season, City is sitting on 23 points after 14 matches. After an awful six-game winless streak, three points were vital and the Lions captured them to stay ahead of the club’s pace from the first two years.

The club stopped the bleeding, at least momentarily, but it wasn’t easy. Orlando has an opportunity to turn things around with a couple of home matches coming up and sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference on the first day of June is a welcome change from where the team has been in the past. Still, there’s more work to be done.

Here are my five takeaways from the match:

Barnes Brings the Juice

The substitution of Giles Barnes into the game for Luis Gil in the 59th minute completely changed the energy of the match. Barnes made a sliding tackle to get his first touch of the ball just seconds after coming on and simply outworked everyone in his path. His dribble through three defenders to earn a free kick just to the left of the penalty area set up the Lions’ first goal. Immediately after winning the foul, he pumped up The Wall and his teammates, who responded.

Cyle Larin had Steve Birnbaum wrapped completely around him but he still muscled his way onto the ball to nod home the opening goal. Barnes was so pumped up that he fancied his chances with a pair of ill-advised shots that made Jason Kreis wince on the sidelines, but the second one squirted through the normally reliable hands of Bill Hamid and into the net for a much-needed insurance goal. Down the stretch, Barnes hustled to keep possession, win throw-ins, and help his team see out the three points. It was easily the Jamaican’s most impressive performance of the season and for me he was easily the Man of the Match.

Spector Saves the Day

Orlando has found a lot of ways to not win games in a horrific month of May — letting Wondo shake free late at San Jose, allowing Sporting Kansas City to make something from nothing to drop points at home for the first time, and failing to score a single goal against Minnesota’s leaky back line, just to name a few. The same almost happened against United last night in the rain. Jose Aja’s impotent back pass nearly gifted Lamar Neagle the equalizer in the 74th minute but Jonathan Spector stood between the D.C. striker and the tying goal. Specs blocked the shot up into the air and Joe Bendik recovered from coming out to try to get to Aja’s pass first — just in time to punch the ball away from Sebastien Le Toux’s head.

It was a moment that probably would have cost the Lions points any other night in May, but for once the soccer gods were kind to the purple team.

Shots Don’t Always Equal Chances

Orlando City held a 9-3 advantage in shots in the first half but you’d be hard pressed to even tell if Bill Hamid had to sweat with all the rain pouring down. The Lions’ shots were nearly all from distance — only three came from inside the box and one of those was blocked – and there was really no offensive threat to show for nearly 59% of the possession. It’s not that D.C. United was doing anything revolutionary. The visitors simply packed the middle and forced Orlando to beat them from wide areas while being physical with Larin on balls over the top. There was little menace in City’s attack until Barnes was subbed on and changed the team’s energy.

Home Sweet Home

The Lions improved to 6-1-1 at the Purple Palace and will play their next two MLS matches (plus one U.S. Open Cup game) at Orlando City Stadium. Although it was the first non-sellout in the new building – at “only” 24,112 – the crowd was just as loud and enthusiastic as usual, despite having to cheer through a midweek monsoon for much of the match. Orlando, like all MLS teams, is more comfortable at home and this has become one of the league’s top home-field advantages. The Lions have been poor on the road (again, like many MLS clubs), so these points are vital.

Spark Plug

Matias Perez Garcia has been a mixed bag since his arrival in Orlando. But against D.C. he was like an annoying little fly, buzzing around the opposition. He won four fouls in the first half alone and was second on the team with 44 touches. Although he still struggles to get his shots on frame, MPG showed a willingness to run and work that was reminiscent of when he first arrived during last year’s summer trade window. That work ethic is what the fans expect and MPG showed why Jason Kreis coveted him.

If Orlando City can routinely get these kinds of performances from Barnes and MPG, it should provide the extra offensive spark that has been lacking for much of this season.

Those are the things that stood out to me. What did you see? Let us know in the comments section below.