Orlando City has a history of playing friendlies against English Premier League competition but had never faced one of the league’s biggest clubs before. That changed on Wednesday night when Arsenal FC brought its preseason North American tour to Exploria Stadium. The Lions held up well over the first half despite a lot of heavy legs and another weather delay of more than an hour. Orlando City dominated the stats page but the game was tied 1-1 at the break, due in large part to Benji Michel not being able to finish a clear-cut breakaway.
Arsenal brought on the team’s top star attackers after halftime while Orlando City started getting some younger players on the field and the EPL side was able to take control, going on to win the friendly, 3-1. Facundo Torres supplied the Lions’ biggest highlight of the game with a well-struck goal from outside the area after a scrumptious pass from Antonio Carlos sent him into the attack. Torres still had work to do, cutting in from the right to free himself up enough to take the left-footed effort.
The atmosphere was surprisingly lively for a friendly match, with some less-than-friendly chants “greeting” the visitors from London. That may have been due in part to the pent-up anticipation of the match after the lightning delay.
Pedro Gallese came up big a few times in the second half but there were some defending errors that led to the visitors’ final two goals. Those came on top of the unlucky first goal, which may have gone wide of the far post had it not hit Carlos and changed directions, leaving no chance for Gallese to keep it out.
While fans were surprised Oscar Pareja used so many regulars in the midst of the congested fixture schedule, the club was never going to run an academy team out on the pitch against one of the world’s biggest clubs. The gaffer did manage to get through the match without using two of the team’s three Designated Players, and younger guys like Thomas Williams, Jack Lynn, and Moises Tablante did see action in the second half. Pareja was able to give some minutes to regular players who he said “needed rhythm,” such as Carlos, Alexandre Pato, and Andres Perea. In addition, Joao Moutinho got a solid 45 minutes after coming back from a lower leg injury and the Portuguese left back played well.
Another player who had a good showing was Homegrown right back Michael Halliday, who started the game brightly, was one of the team’s better players for the first 20 minutes, but then started to get a little exposed by the English giants before being substituted off.
In the end, the loss means nothing in the grand scheme of things, and the club got some good international exposure and provided Arsenal a good test. A win would have been nice, but it’s more important to get results in the next two games — a meeting Saturday with Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia and next Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the New York Red Bulls.
We hope you enjoy these images from a wet-but-memorable night at Exploria Stadium.
Images: Dan MacDonald
Words: Michael Citro