Well that was fun! It might haven taken a bit more time to become fun than we were hoping for, but it wouldn’t be an Orlando City victory without some late drama (especially late, thanks to the weather delay). What follows are my five takeaways from last night’s 1-0 victory over Inter Miami.
A Bit Anticlimatic...at First
After a weather delay that lasted for nearly two-and-a-half hours due to storms in the area, the assembled masses inside Exploria Stadium were ravenous when the 10:25 p.m. kickoff finally rolled around. The atmosphere remained excellent for the rest of the match, but the play on the field itself couldn’t quite match it. It was wide open at times, with plenty of spaces in midfield for both teams to exploit, but each team couldn’t work more than two great chances on the night. Miami’s came early, and only Pedro Gallese’s face prevented the Lions from being in another early hole. Orlando’s best opportunity was in the 58th minute, but Benji Michel couldn’t make a solid connection on Ruan’s cross. Other than that, it was a mostly anticlimactic affair until the dying embers of the match.
Physicality Ruled the Night
Part of the reason for the slightly underwhelming product on the pitch was the high level of physicality that took place during the match. There were 31 fouls committed on the night, with Orlando responsible for 12 and Miami supplying the other 19. Mauricio Pereyra, in particular, took a beating from the Miami players, and it was pretty clear that he was not only being man-marked, but was the target of intentionally rougher play. Credit to Miami, because it helped stop Orlando from generating good looks at goal and the Herons never had to stop because only one yellow card was given to them — to Bryce Duke for fouling Rodrigo Schlegel. The visitors had the better of the opening minutes of play largely due to their physicality, but once Orlando adjusted and responded in kind the game evened out more.
Trouble in the Final Third
Once the Lions settled in, they were able to create some good passages of play. A lot of the attacking threat came down the right hand side, but Orlando also enjoyed multiple spells of possession with the ball in the attacking third of the field. The problem is that OCSC wasn’t able to generate good chances from that possession. The final ball either didn’t find its intended target or was never played at all, and while Orlando took eight shots on the night, only three came from inside the box and only Benji’s attempt from Ruan’s cross can be considered a truly good opportunity. Something still isn’t quite right in attack, and it looks like the team could really use another piece or two.
Cesar Araujo was excellent in this game. He passed with 84% accuracy, including a key pass, and made a whopping eight tackles — five more than the next closest player, Schlegel. He also drew nine of the 19 fouls Miami committed on the night, many of which were due to his craftiness and clever body positioning. On more than one occasion he had the awareness to put his body in the right place to win a foul and alleviate pressure for the hosts in the process. He was everywhere and was absolutely spectacular in the process. His signing continues to look like a better piece of business with every passing second, and if he somehow adds even a whiff of a goal-scoring dimension to his game, then watch the hell out.
Cardiac Cats Find a Way
As time ticked down in this one I was not expecting an Orlando City victory. The good guys simply hadn’t created enough danger and a draw seemed inevitable. Then Damion Lowe bundled home Jake Mulraney’s cross and the Lions got a massively needed three points at home. There were still roughly two minutes of stoppage time to see out as well, and Orlando did so professionally. Seeing young Mikey Halliday win the ball in midfield, look up and spot Araujo ahead of him and instead calmly play the ball back to his fellow defender was absolutely wonderful to see. It wasn’t a game Orlando outright deserved three points from, but sometimes you just have to find a way to get the job done, and that’s what happened late Saturday night.
For a few quick closing thoughts...Junior Urso looked much better to me last night than he has in recent games. The two scything runs through the defense he made were nothing short of spectacular, and it’s a shame he couldn’t get a goal to round one of them off. It also felt like Orlando finally got some luck to go its way this year. Between the injury to Gaston Gonzalez, the phantom handball in Chicago, questionable officiating in Austin and more, it’s sometimes felt like the Lions simply can’t catch a break. Saturday night, OCSC finally had a lucky bounce go its way, and it feels nice to be on the other side of things.
That’s how I saw this one. What did you make of last night’s match? Be sure to have your say down in the comments. Vamos Orlando!