SEX. BALL. I don’t need to say much else, all you motherfuckers know what I’m talking about. I mentioned last time about how Orlando needs a convincing win and these past performances were not doing it for me, regardless of being 2nd in the Eastern Conference. Are things finally starting to turn a corner? Is the sun finally starting to shine? All jokes considered it was a fantastic, well-executed win against the Crew on Saturday. The Lions got their goals and controlled the tempo of the game. It was a well deserved 3 points and the stars seem to be aligning for the boys in purple.
This stat flies a little under the radar, but the Orlando City Lions are unbeaten on the road this year. MLS is a very tough league for traveling teams, and this stat shouldn’t go unnoticed. They have managed to implement their style of play and tactics on any pitch they have come across, regardless of if they get the three points. Hats off to Pareja on that one, and the “project” is very much coming to fruition.
In regards to the match, Orlando had to do whatever they could to get a win, and they did enough. Pato and Ruan did not get the start, with Michel and Smith taking their places instead. I was indifferent to both of their performances - Michel was not better than Pato, and Smith was not better than Ruan, but the drop-off in quality was not noticeable. Torres, Kara, and Pereyra continue to be the glue going forward for this team. I am almost positive Kara was taken over by the ghost of David Villa in the build up to his goal because that was prime Pep Guardiola “Tiki Taka” liquid football if I’ve ever seen it. Sex Ball, if you will. That, along with Schlegel adding a goal to his stellar performance, put this win on the top of the performances list throughout the season for me.
It was not all sunshine and rainbows however, as the Crew did have their chances. The Lions caught them at the right time - they simply cannot score. Gallese and the back line were busy in the back, especially early in the first half, with a Crew free kick hitting the corner of the woodwork and a missed chance almost grazing the post. Bend, but do not break. So far, Orlando is following this saying to a tee.
Goal - 37’ - Schlegel
Yellow Card - 45’ + 1’ - Moreira
Goal - 51’ - Kara
Yellow Card - 71’ - Perea
Yellow Card - 73 ‘ - Smith
Yellow Card - 77’ - Schlegel
Yellow Card - 90’ + 3’ - Artur
1. Ok, Kara Might Be Pretty Good
I guess this is why I’m an aspiring reporter and not an aspiring coach. His goal was a thing of beauty, combining well with quick intricate passes with Pereyra and Torres before rifling it into the top right corner to put a ribbon on the match. That goal will flood Twitter reels for days to come, but his involvement was overall very positive. His work rate and defensive ability against opposing defensive midfielders and center backs disrupts them in their build up play. When he gets players around him that he has chemistry with, we will really start to see the Austrian show up on the scoresheet.
2. Lions Don’t Rely on the Duck
Pato did not play against the Crew and when I first saw this when the lineup came out, I was nervous. In tough games on the road, you often look for your best player to come alive in a moment and take over a game. I knew that wasn’t going to be Michel. But Orlando still had a strong attacking performance and looked fluid offensively, even without their most potent attack on the pitch. Whether the move was fully to rest Pato or continue to test the waters with different combinations in the front 3, it was a gamble worth taking from Pareja.
3. Schlegel Shows His Best
It was a brilliant performance from Schlegel on Saturday night. My focus was particularly on his command of the defense and his positioning. You don’t usually talk about defenders positioning when attacking, but he got himself in a good area for Torres' cross, and Urso knocked it down for him and he could not miss. Defensively, his positioning was top tier as well. Throughout the second half, the Crew started to have chances on the counter and Schlegel was there to put out the fires. Even if Columbus got shots off he made them very difficult and Gallese was able to handle them. He stuffed the stat sheet as well, with five interceptions, three tackles, and four clearances. Antonio Carlos’s shoes are not easy to fill, but so far Schlegel has been working hard to prove his capability as an MLS starter.
As I mentioned in the match preview, the Lions needed to capitalize on their chances because it would be much more open. That was the case, with both teams attacking up and down constantly. Composure was needed to ensure no goals were conceded, and composure is what we got. Take that, add a couple goals, and you get yourself a quality 3 points earned on the road.
Orlando has a US Open Cup match against the Tampa Bay Rowdies at Exploria Stadium on Wednesday, April 20th at 7pm.