It feels good to win. Actually, it feels great to win, let’s establish that before I go any further. There’s always room for improvement though, and while Orlando City has rattled off three consecutive wins, there are undoubtedly things that can be improved upon. Many of those things have been discussed and some of them, like scoring goals and goalkeeper play, have improved while things like solid defensive play are still a work in progress. Another important area for the Lions to focus on is starting games well, and it’s something that the team has yet to do this year.
In Orlando’s first five games, the opposition scored first. D.C United scored in the 32nd minute, Minnesota United in the 12th, New York City FC in the 62nd, the New York Red Bulls in the seventh, and the Portland Timbers in the 20th. For the purposes of this article I’m considering “early” goals to be ones scored within the first 25 minutes of play. My reasoning is that typically by the 25th minute, both teams have had time to settle into the game and try to implement their chosen strategies as the pace and flow of the game become established.
So according to my little rule, three of those five goals were early goals. It’s a small sample size but it’s a trend that points to the Lions not starting games well, which obviously results in the team playing from behind. Even in the D.C. United game, the red and black didn’t score until just after the half-hour mark, but only a stupendous Joe Bendik save in the 20th minute kept D.C. from being rewarded for a long spell of pressure in the Orlando half. Also, while OCSC never trailed in the most recent game against the Philadelphia Union, the team was out-shot 6-2 in the opening 25 minutes and was probably a bit lucky not to have conceded the first goal.
Please don’t misinterpret this as me just sitting on my computer looking for something to complain about because it amuses me. Rather, I believe that the team should strive to keep improving and not let recent results hide some of the cracks in overall play. Conceding first in all but one game just isn’t how OCSC wants to play, and an argument can be made that a team better than Philadelphia almost certainly would have made the Lions rue their slow start.
As the season goes on and teams begin rounding into form, there will be little room for slow starts, especially if this is a team that wants to be in the picture once the playoff field starts to take shape. Simply put, the beginning of games have to be better.
There is a silver lining to all of this though, or at least I think there is. There’s a lot to be learned from those difficult starts to games and from being forced to play from behind. Those types of games can be valuable experiences for a team, especially one that hasn’t been together for a very long time. They teach a team how to fight, work for each other, and win in ugly ways, as well as keeping a team from panicking the second it gives up a goal and starts to lose. Teams unaccustomed to winning can quickly suffer from panic when things start to go badly. Call it mental fragility, call it not being used to playing from behind, or call it whatever you want. With the way this team’s season has started off, the players have had the opportunity to learn quite a bit.
While those learning experiences could indeed prove valuable as the season progresses, the hope should be to try and play complete games. Rather than being a second-half team or only ratcheting up the intensity when the chips are down, coming out strong at the beginning of games is an essential part of this Orlando City team taking the next step in its growth. If starting well becomes a habit for the Lions then things could start to look very bright indeed.