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Orlando City vs. Toronto FC: Five Takeaways

What did we learn from James O’Connor’s home debut and first win as the Lions’ gaffer?

MLS: Toronto FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City finally ended its nine-match losing streak in MLS league play Saturday night by overcoming a struggling Toronto FC side, 2-1. The boys in purple were obviously happy to be back home in Orlando City Stadium, and the supporters reflected that sentiment by drowning the grounds in purple smoke and bellowing City chants. There’s a lot to dissect from this one, so let’s get right into it; here are our five takeaways from OCSC’s win against TFC.

The Losing Streak is Broken

This is the obvious takeaway, but it’s a takeaway nonetheless. The Lions’ new head coach, James O’Connor, is now 1-1 and breaking that dreaded losing streak was undoubtedly the first thing on his mind. Now that it’s out of the way, O’Connor, the players, the supporters, and the club’s management can look forward to a new beginning. No more referring to a losing streak. No more negativity. Things can only rise from here, and I think they will. Also, this win was only the second time in the club’s history that the Lions have beaten the Reds.

O’Connor is Shaking Things Up

And I love it. O’Connor deployed a surprising squad that saw Joe Bendik on the bench, Tony Rocha starting on the left wing, and Justin Meram not even breaking into the 18-man squad (“coach’s decision”). It’s clear that the Lions have been overdue for change, but I’m glad to see O’Connor adjusting his lineup to experiment with his roster. Not only does the experimentation allow O’Connor further insight into the ability of his current roster, but it also ended the nine-match losing streak in league play.

With O’Connor making drastic changes, such as leaving longstanding goalkeeper Bendik on the bench and Meram out of the 18-man squad, he may be adding a bit of heat to his own seat. But if the team secures points during this time of transition, O’Connor should be applauded for having the courage to make unpopular changes that potentially put the club in the best position to win. Now, he does know that the Lions are playing an incredible five matches over 15 days, including this Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal against the Philadelphia Union, so these changes could also serve as insight into O’Connor’s desire to make a U.S. Open Cup run. We’ll see what he does this Wednesday.

Ladies and Gentleman, Earl Edwards Jr.

We always knew he was a solid goalkeeper and his heroics were recently on full display as Orlando City eliminated D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup in the Round of 16 just less than a month ago via a penalty kick shootout. But with O’Connor’s desire to truly shake things up within his ranks, Edwards Jr. was handed his first MLS start of the season — and second league start ever — on Saturday night against Toronto FC, and he did not disappoint.

Though he wasn’t tested as much as he probably should have been, his three saves were important on the night, and the one goal the Lions conceded certainly can’t be blamed on him. The most notable difference between seeing Edwards Jr. in between the sticks rather than Bendik is simple: distribution. Edwards Jr. did an excellent job of identifying streaking runs, and has the arm to ensure that this throws reach his intended target. On top of that, he’s much more sound with his feet and pass accuracy than Bendik has been this season. Edwards Jr. has done enough in a single league match to have us all questioning who’ll be the true No. 1 going forward. Will we see Bendik in between the sticks on Wednesday as the Lions take on the Union in the U.S Open Cup quarterfinals?

Yoshimar Yotún is Invaluable to the Lions’ Success

Yoshi played like a man possessed Saturday night. Maybe he’s taken a little something extra back with him from Russia following Peru’s group stage exit, but it’s painfully obvious how important his presence on the pitch is for the Lions. His 86% pass completion percentage was behind only Sacha Kljestan (90%), Chris Schuler (92%) and Will Johnson (97%), but it was the quality of his passing that made the difference.

Yoshi plays with purpose, and has a motor like no other. Not only was he passing with near pinpoint accuracy on the night, but he was also doing work all over the center of the park, winning four tackles and serving as the lynch pin to the Lions’ midfield. His single shot on the night, an audacious attempt from just inside Toronto’s half, took the Reds’ keeper off guard and forced an uneasy parry that went out for a corner. O’Connor would be wise to stick with Yoshi in every single lineup going forward and though he’s often acknowledged as the Lions’ most important player, I still feel that his contributions are underappreciated.

Dom Dwyer is Back and Firing

The last time Dwyer, City’s top scorer with eight goals on the season, found the back of the net was June 10 during 5-2 shellacking at Vancouver. He’s found it again, and he’s also looking dangerous in creating chances for his teammates again. It seems that when Dwyer is playing up to his standards, the Lions are in much better shape and Saturday night’s performance against the Reds truly displayed his adept ability to score and persist as a pesky, dangerous threat to any defense.

Despite his size, he’s also incredible as an aerial threat, and won several aerial battles on the evening against defenders with more height. He had five shots on the night, with four on target, and was strong in both holdup play and on the counter. His growing partnership with rookie sensation Chris Mueller, despite a few occasions of the two not being on the same page Saturday night, is going to prove vital for the Lions moving forward.

That’s what I took away from the weekend win. What did you see? Let me know by commenting below!