Ah, to be an Orlando City supporter. After the pain in Portland, my Sunday night slumber was plagued with nightmares of hurried returns from injury, multiple red cards, and the eternal struggle of playing on the road in MLS. Contrast that to how I slept on Wednesday night when my dreams were filled with goals dropping out of the sky like manna from the heavens, red cards that weren’t given to Orlando players, and more assured performances than I could shake a stick at. Buckle up kids, and lets get down to how these games shook out, and what any of this means.
Away to Portland: 3-0 Defeat
Going on the road in MLS is notoriously difficult, and by now this is old news. The last three years, no team won more than seven games on the road. Take New York City FC, which won seven games on the road last year. In total, it played 18 road games, earning a winning percentage of 32% when away from home. That is...not that great, especially for the best road record in the league.
Obviously, the number of games is a grind and the obscene amount of distance that’s traveled doesn’t exactly help either. My overall point here is that while getting smoked up in Portland was demoralizing, it perhaps shouldn’t have been all that surprising. The team’s four points from the last two away games weren’t the norm, and while I don’t encourage pessimism, perhaps the writing was on the wall to a certain degree.
Let me be clear. I’m a fan of Jonathan Spector. I think he’s been a great addition to the team and his experience and skill has been a blessing to the back line and the team as a whole. With that being said, I wonder if Spector might have benefited from a day off instead of playing on Sunday. Last week, he was taken off in the 59th minute after appearing to re-aggravate the knee injury that had kept him sidelined for the better part of a month. While I commend Spector for wanting to play against Portland, he did not look 100% fit and seemed to be a couple of steps slower than everyone else on the field and had a torrid night because of it.
With evidence out there that knee injuries, specifically ACL sprains and tears, occur at a higher rate on artifical turf (particularly the FieldTurf brand of turf that Providence Park’s pitch is made of) than on grass, it’s worth wondering whether playing Spector was a good idea. Not only did it run the risk of injuring him further, but it also proved detrimental to the team.
Ugh, red cards. As one of my esteemed fellow writers noted, OCSC has been given six red cards in its last seven matches, with two of those games seeing the Lions go down to nine men. I understand that it’s been a tough season and frustration is probably bubbling under the surface, but if I can’t walk into the supermarket and elbow someone in the face because I’m frustrated about the season, then the players don’t get to do it on the field either. Sorry guys, but doing rash and quite frankly stupid stuff like that isn’t going to help anyone, yourselves included. It needs to be better.
Home against New England Revolution: 6-1 victory
How about those goals though? When I tuned in at the 50th minute after getting off work and saw the score was 3-1, I was quite pleasantly surprised. Over the next 40 minutes my pleasant surprise turned into manic delight as the Lions fired in three more goals. Goalwise, this game had everything. Goals for Antonio Nocerino (club first) and Seb Hines? Check. Brace for Kaká? Check. First goal for the club for Yoshimar Yotun? Also check. First home goal for Dom Dwyer? Another check. And each goal was just so damn satisfying, especially given how the previous game went. And that’s all I have to say about that.
If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t have believed it. A game that didn’t see an Orlando City player given a red card. It’s understandable if that seems unbelievable, I had to pinch myself a couple times to make sure I wasn’t in some sort of twisted Inception-like dream. And while three Orlando players did receive yellow cards, not a single one was sent off. It honestly brought a happy tear to my eye. And if I’m honest, I didn’t lose any sleep over the fact that Xavier Kouassi’s 11th-minute red card paved the way for the Revolution’s doom. Quite the opposite in fact, as my bruised ego and vindictive streak born from Sunday’s result ensured I reveled in the fact that for once it was the opposing team on the wrong end of a sending-off. Take that, world.
There were quite a few delightful individual performances on Wednesday night so I won’t go through them all, that’s what player grades are for. But did I (yet again) cry happy tears when Dom scored his first home goal and Yoshi opened his account for the club? You bet your purple-clad bottom I did, and I’m man enough to admit it. Did Seb Hines’ and Nocerino’s performances make me feel like a proud father watching his kid ride a bike for the first time? Maybe, what’s it to you? The point here is that the Lions looked like a team, when individual performances came together and made the collective performance something to write home about.
So What? Why Should I Care?
Now look, is the team going to go on some insane run and sneak into the playoffs in the last spot? Well, considering it has five points to make up on the New York Red Bulls, three games in which to do it, and they have a game in hand...no, Orlando City probably won’t. And that sucks quite a lot, honestly. Three years without making the playoffs isn’t what anyone wants. But if there’s something to take away from these past two games then it should be this: the pieces are most certainly in place for this team.
Yes, the Lions were pretty thoroughly beaten on Sunday. But going out and flaying a team 6-1 doesn’t happen by accident. That isn’t some kind of fluke. In the end, it feels like I’m beating the same drum a lot of people have been beating for most of this season: Orlando has most of the pieces it needs, the club just has to figure out how to put them together on a consistent basis.