Last week our own Topher Adams spoke about how Orlando City needed to lean into the #PlayYourKids style of thinking with fixture congestion for the Lions starting to heat up. That’s exactly what happened on Tuesday, with a blowout win over San Jose providing the perfect opportunity to hand minutes to Alexander Alvarado, who came on in the 71st minute, and Michael Halliday, who played the entire second half. Alvarado was solid in his time on the field, but Halliday put in a particularly impressive shift, entering the game in place of Joao Moutinho.
Halliday’s first Orlando appearance was a start in the 2-1 loss to New York Red Bulls. He had a decent game, even though he didn’t cover himself in glory on New York’s opening goal. He was sacrificed for Moutinho in the 63rd minute with Orlando chasing the game, bringing his debut to an end. On Tuesday, however, with Orlando already up 3-0 and comfortably in control at halftime, Oscar Pareja took the opportunity to give Moutinho some rest by handing Halliday the reins at right back, with Kyle Smith shifting over to the left.
His second game as a Lion got off to an emphatic start, with the 18-year-old absolutely hauling ass down the field to join the attack and win a corner. While nothing of note happened on the corner, he was promptly involved on offense again, and won the foul that resulted in Daryl Dike heading home from the ensuing free kick. His impact on offense faded a little after that, as none of his three attempted crosses found their targets, but with Orlando already up 4-0, that didn’t matter too much.
Perhaps more importantly, he had a much better defensive outing than his debut. He led the team with three tackles and also had two clearances. He had a tough assignment in marking Cade Cowell and largely did a good job of it. While the Earthquakes were far from their best on Tuesday, you can only play against the opposition in front of you, and Halliday did well to maintain his focus and concentration to avoid making any mistakes like he did against the Red Bulls.
Halliday’s good half couldn’t have come at a better time. You need to be able to rotate your squad when games start coming thick and fast. When teams don’t or can’t rotate enough, things can get ugly quickly. Matias Almeyda made only one change on Tuesday after playing in Austin on Saturday night, and that was Tommy Thompson coming in for Eric Remedi, who was serving a suspension for yellow card accumulation. The ensuing game was far from pretty, with Orlando being very good but San Jose also frankly being very bad and looking tired and mistake-prone.
With fullback one of the thinnest positions on the Orlando roster, Halliday’s performance against San Jose is especially encouraging. While Rodrigo Schlegel can deputize at fullback if needed, he’s best as a center back and having one backup each for Ruan and Joao Moutinho could prove invaluable as a crowded summer schedule continues to bring games thick and fast. He’ll need to prove he can maintain strong performances against better opposition than San Jose provided on Tuesday, but if he can do so the Lions will benefit immensely.