Orlando SeaWolves General Manager and Head Coach Chris Kokalis said before the season that he wanted his team to be more physical and better defensively. The SeaWolves lived up to that in the season opener but blew too many scoring chances in a 3-2 loss to the Florida Tropics at Silver Spurs Arena.
The SeaWolves were without last year’s top three scorers, with Thiago Freitas and Osvaldo Rojas both sitting out with visa issues and Gordy Gurson having signed with the visiting Tropics in the off-season. That loss of firepower was apparent as Orlando sent several point-blank chances either right at the goalkeeper, wide, or over the bar and out of play. The Tropics were just a little bit sharper and will take the win back to Lakeland as a result.
For the second season in a row a former Orlando City player opened the season scoring for the SeaWolves. Last year it was Luke Boden netting the first strike of the year and tonight it was former USL and OCB Lion Jonny Mendoza who nodded home to make it 1-0 at the 9:49 mark of the first quarter off an assist from Omar Tapia.
Rafa Alves tied things up at 12:20 with a low shot that Piotr Sliwa couldn’t stop and the teams were knotted at 1-1 after one period, with the SeaWolves holding a 5-3 edge in shots on goal.
Orlando had the game’s first power-play opportunity in the second period after Mendoza’s hustle forced a foul for tripping on Lucas Montelares. The power play was poorly executed without really any dangerous chances and the Tropics then nearly took the lead if not for a great double save by Sliwa on Zach Reget and a diving block by Joshio Sandoval to keep Antonio Manfut from scoring on an odd-man rush midway through the quarter.
Richard Schmermund nearly put the SeaWolves back on top with about five minutes left in the half but smashed a set piece shot just wide of the far post. The teams then exchanged late chances in the final minute of the half, with Sliwa saving a good chance from Drew Ruggles and Orlando firing just over the net at the other end. The teams remained deadlocked at 1-1 at the break. The Tropics were the better team in the second half and recorded five shots on goal to Orlando’s none.
The first good scoring chance of the second half went to Orlando after Ricardo Carvalho fouled Sandoval and went to the penalty box. The SeaWolves’ second power play was much better than the first and Orlando had a few good opportunities but couldn’t break through.
Carvalho then put the Tropics ahead 2-1 after Orlando’s Drou Goff fell down, giving Florida an odd-man rush. After the initial shot went wide, the ball cycled back to Carvalho, who fired just over Sandoval and into the net.
Orlando’s Eduardo Cruz came within inches of tying it up moments later but fired off the left goal post. The Tropics took their 2-1 lead into the fourth period, after Orlando held a 5-1 advantage in shots on goal in the third quarter and a 10-9 lead in the game to that point.
The SeaWolves should have tied the game on a flurry early in the fourth quarter, but Mario Alvarez fired wide then Sandoval had one open look saved by Hugo Silva and fired the second one wide. Alvarez then had a shot blocked in a sequence that should have seen an equalizer for the hosts.
Schmermund did tie the game at the 5:00 mark of the fourth period with a blast in off the post, knotting things up at 2-2.
However, the tie only lasted 1:08 before a Cruz turnover gave Florida possession and the Tropics worked a perfect play off the boards for an easy Matt Clare goal to make it 3-2.
Schmermund then put the Tropics on their first power play by taking out Manfut. Orlando killed the penalty without allowing a good opportunity and then began pressing for the equalizer.
There was a scary moment late when Sandoval went headfirst into the boards and needed medical attention before walking off with his head wrapped in gauze.
Orlando then brought on the sixth attacker but couldn’t generate anything and sloppily sent the ball out of play multiple times in a wasteful final couple of minutes.
The SeaWolves finished with more shots on goal (13-10) but went 0-for-2 on the power play and sent far too many good opportunities off target.
The SeaWolves will be back in action against the Tropics again at home on Thursday, Dec. 5 at 7:35 p.m.