Well that was an eventful start to the season, wasn’t it? A video review penalty, a video review red card, a stoppage-time equalizer — that game had about everything you could ask for aside from a win for the purple and gold. Be still my heart. Here are our five takeaways from the match.
Slow Start for the Lions
Even before D.C.’s goal went in, Orlando City started the game very much on the back foot. An early mistake at the back should have led to a shot on goal, and it took some time for the team to grow into the game. With the slightly makeshift nature of the lineup and four players in the starting lineup making their MLS debuts, this was perhaps a little unsurprising. Without a doubt the hope will be to not repeat those early struggles going forward.
Video Review a Talking Point
Perhaps one of the most obvious statement of the night, but VAR Geoff Gamble had a big part to play in this game. After Joe Bendik did well to save the penalty that was awarded following a video review, it seemed like the Lions had escaped unscathed. But the next review resulted in PC being shown a straight red and the story seemed all too familiar with the team down both a goal and a man. I’m not here to talk about whether or not it should have been a red, but obviously the decision made the task ahead of the team that much more difficult
Encouraging Signs in the Second Half
For all of the difficulties the team had in the beginning of the first half, the second one was completely different. The Lions managed to create a number of chances before new man Stéfano Pinho finally made the breakthrough, with Justin Meram coming close on a couple of occasions, Yoshimar Yotun having a shot cleared off the line, and Richie Laryea putting a good chance over the bar after being played in by Meram. The team did well to press forward for an equalizer and on the basis of the second half alone the Lions certainly deserved a point from this game. There was even a chance to grab a winner late on, and the commitment and fight shown from the team was good to see.
Pressure Down the Flanks Finally Pays Off
In both halves OCSC applied lots of pressure in and from wide areas. Scott Sutter and Mohamed El-Munir found themselves further up the field on a number of occasions. Meram also drifted out wide often and was involved in many of the plays that led to Orlando chances, including the Pinho goal. For awhile it seemed like the lack of a big physical presence in the box would cost the Lions, with cross after cross being played in to no avail. Some credit should go to Jason Kreis then, for recognizing that fact and throwing Pinho into the fray to provide more of a challenge for the D.C. center backs — a tactic which paid off.
Meram Looks the Real Deal
In case you were worried about how Meram would adjust to life in Orlando, don’t. Based off the evidence of this game he shouldn’t have any problems whatsoever. Even while deployed up top alongside Chris Mueller as part of a two-man strike-force instead of at his preferred position on the wing, Meram constantly got into dangerous positions. Whether it was taking on the D.C. fullbacks in 1-v-1 situations or playing in his teammates, he was at the heart of nearly every chance the team created. His performance should have fans salivating at the prospect of what will be on display once the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Dom Dwyer and Josué Colmán return to the lineup.
I won’t lie to you, I spent a good part of the second half thinking that I’d seen this story before. For awhile it was shaping up to be one of those nights where no matter what the Lions did, they just couldn’t get the goal they needed. Yes, it was only one game and yes it was against one of last season’s bottom feeders, but to me this game felt like one the Lions wouldn’t have managed to get anything from last season. The fact that they wrote a different script than that of a lot of last year’s games is encouraging to me, and hopefully it’s a trend that continues.