Orlando City bounced back from its lone preseason loss with a comfortable 3-1 win over Icelandic side KR Reykjavik on Tuesday night at Exploria Stadium. All the scoring took place in the first half and the Lions looked good moving the ball quickly and unlocking the Reykjavik defense to create scoring opportunities.
Here’s what stood out to me in the match:
Moutinho’s Magical Left Foot
Joao Moutinho can flat out cross the ball. Within the first 70 seconds of the match he put a goal on a plate for Nani by dropping a cross right on his foot from the left flank. About two minutes later he nearly set up Daryl Dike for a goal with a similar cross. In all, Moutinho had four or five exceptional crosses and a few others that were pretty good. If the young Portuguese fullback can stay healthy and cross the ball like that, it will go a long way toward helping the Lions score more goals in 2020. It’s probably not a coincidence that the team went 0-4-4 down the stretch without him last year. Well, mostly without him. He did manage 14 minutes at Cincinnati before sustaining another injury in the penultimate game.
Dike Looks the Part
It was our first glimpse of the rookie and Dike is indeed a physically imposing player. Orlando City’s No. 5 overall selection in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft is raw but you can see his potential immediately. As Oscar Pareja said after the match last night, Dike is so big that it’s easy to forget you’re looking at an under-20 player and he has a lot of developing yet to come. Still, his large frame allows him to hold up play well. He’s savvy enough to work with his teammates to produce better scoring opportunities rather than trying to always turn and take on his defender. He also seems to read the ball in the air well. It would be a mistake to expect a lot from him this season, because he’s still very raw, but the talent and physical attributes certainly appear to be there.
“His presence is important,” Pareja said. “I was very happy to see him want so bad to score and get that taste of a first division match.”
Surprise Start for Dezart
So far, Dike is the only Orlando City 2020 draftee under contract, due to his Generation Adidas deal. But if last night is any indication, a contract could be on the way for former Wake Forest midfielder Joey Dezart. The first of three second-round picks for the Lions (No. 31 overall) got a start last night with Uri Rosell and Nani in the midfield and, although it wasn’t a perfect night, Dezart showed a lot in his runout. Dezart moved the ball quickly and decisively and did his part to win the ball back and to connect passes to unlock the defense. In one sequence he turned the ball over with an ill-advised pass but then did well to hustle and win it right back, using his size and strength to box out a Reykjavik player in the process.
“Joey looked mature too,” Pareja said. “He just got a lot of minutes today with Oriol (Rosell) that will help him to grow.”
Benji is Better
To me, Benji Michel was the best player on the pitch in the first half of the game. He passed well, defended, made smart, well-timed runs, put away his best chance on goal, and drew a foul that led to Reykjavik’s goalkeeper committing a red card foul for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. The development we saw at the end of 2019 seems to be continuing for the second-year Homegrown Player. That said, there’s still room for some growth for the 22-year-old. His play wasn’t as sharp in the second half and he seemed to have some moments where he briefly switched off. If Michel plays this season like he did in the first half last night, no one should worry about the Lions’ ability to score goals whether Dom Dwyer is in the lineup or not.
Nani: Still Nani
If Michel was the best player on the pitch for the first 45 minutes, Nani was — as you’d expect — the class of the field for the full match. A good save by Omar Einarsson was all that prevented the captain from scoring a hat trick and he had to settle instead for just a brace. He didn’t have to do much on his first goal, just sticking out a foot to redirect Moutinho’s cross into the net, but his smart run and knowledge of where to be certainly helped. His second goal was vintage Nani. He played the ball forward to Chris Mueller and continued up field while Mueller looked inside to beat his man, then he just beat Einarsson to the ball on the return pass and tapped it with just enough on it to get it over the line before the defense could arrive and clear it.
He also smashed a howitzer shot just over the bar and stung Einarsson’s palms with a swerving effort. The captain was all over the field, dropping deep to start the offense as a deep-lying playmaker one minute, then getting up the wings or working the ball into the box in the middle in the attack. There were still a few too many careless passes as he tries the sublime sometimes when something more basic will do, but it’s fair to say that his fearlessness to try training ground passes in match conditions is part of what makes him who he is.
Bonus Takeaway: Under Pressure
KR Reykjavik got back into the game by turning up the pressure and using three players to try to trap the ball along the sideline. This was effective for about 10 to 15 minutes in the first half, as the visitors were able to force a few turnovers out of Moutinho and Dezart along the sideline. It led to the only Reykjavik goal and another opportunity that could have tied the match. When I asked Pareja about it after the game, he said he spoke to the team about how to handle that press at halftime and that the players were angry about allowing that goal. It’s noteworthy that the press was successful against some of the younger players on the team, who will go on and learn from the experience.
“It’s something that will come with repetition,” Pareja said. “The players know. They were mad at themselves and recognize that they needed to do better. But that also just tells us that for the opponents it was a serious game and we’ll take that as a growing pain.”
Those are the things that I noticed from last night’s win. What did you see that impressed or worried you? Let us know in the comments below.