Tuesday, April 17, 2012

reVIEW: Orlando City v Wilmington

Orlando City 4-1 Wilmington
(Courtesy of Orlando City SC)

Last night was the first opportunity for most Orlando City fans to see their newly tooled Lions against USL PRO competition. And they relished the opportunity as 8,421 of them came out to the Citrus Bowl to set a regular season attendance record and watch City take on the Wilmington Hammerheads – the team with the second most wins and points behind Orlando City in last year’s USL PRO regular season.

The Lions came out in their now standard 4-2-3-1 formation with the only slight surprise being the start of the recently recuperated Maxwell Griffin over in-form Dennis Chin. The silver lining is the good attacking option Chin would give Orlando coming off the bench.

Right from the opening whistle, Orlando dominated possession and Wilmington quickly packed things in on defense. They were content to put 10 men behind the ball and leave a single forward up top. They were hoping to congest the area in front of their own net, stymie the Orlando ground attack through the middle of the pitch and pray for a couple chances on the counter attack.

This strategy quickly backfired when 8 minutes into the game, Kevin Molino played a through ball to Jamie Watson in the box. Watson’s shot from 3-yards out was blocked by the arm of a Wilmington defender as he slid to defend. The referee spotted the handball and called for a penalty kick, which John Rooney calmly put away for a 1 – 0 Orlando City lead.

Surprisingly, Wilmington did not switch things up and continued to defend with 10 and hope for a counter opportunity. With Wilmington playing with this packed in, tight defense, the two outside backs, Jerome Mechack and Luke Boden for Orlando were pushing way up, getting behind the defense and causing all kinds of havoc. This offensive pressure proved to be too much for Wilmington to handle. With less than 5 minutes to go in the first half, Molino took the ball to the end line and found Rooney 6 yards out from the front of the net for an easy one-touch finish and his second goal of the match. Orlando went into the half leading Wilmington by a score of 2 – 0.

With Wilmington being down two goals, they were going to have to change things up, take some chances and push players forward if they wanted to get back into this game. Coming out of the locker room, it looked like nothing had changed. Orlando come out just as they went in – dominating possession and getting the majority of opportunities. And just like they did in the first half, the Lions scored early with defender Rob Valentino putting a header in off a Rooney cross in the 54th minute to put Orlando up 3 – 0.

This finally sprang Wilmington into action, pushing men forward. This change quickly paid off when 2 minutes later Bryce Taylor nodded home a Hagop Chirishian corner to bring the score to 3 – 1. This gave Wilmington a bit of confidence and they were now leaving 2-3 guys up, which was creating more chances for both teams and some fast paced back-and-forth soccer. The back and forth play was stretching the field and leaving big gaps between the midfield and defense. Orlando City’s James O’Connor and Anthony Pulis were bossing this area of the field.

In the 61st minute, Chin comes in for Griffin and the crowd cheered in appreciation of Griffin’s effort and for the excitement that the speedy Chin brings to the field. Chin quickly picked up where he left off last week. In the 66th minute, Molino played a perfectly weighted ball between the last defender and the Wilmington goalkeeper that Chin runs onto and calmly slots into the net. Orlando City 4 – Wilmington 1, which is how the game would end.

A comfortable and convincing win which should put the rest of the league on notice. Especially when you consider how unimpressed Head Coach Adrian Heath was with the performance. Coach Heath thought “they were better than they showed,” and stated that, “at this particular moment, I’m a little bit disappointed to be perfectly honest.” He went on to criticize the speed with which the team moved the ball, how often they turned the ball over, their shape, their marking…nearly everything.

With only two games completed and a team that looks to be dominating their competition, it makes sense for the Gaffer to keep his team focused, avoid overconfidence for the season ahead, and set the bar high. But just how high is that bar set? Coach Heath explained that, “we set our own standards, we don’t set the standards to the league we play in or the opposition that we’re playing. We know where we’re going and we know when we’re bad.” We now know where you’re going too, Coach Heath – deep in the U.S. Open Cup and eventually into the MLS if you can keep them playing at this level.

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