Orlando City kicked off their preseason with a closely-contested 1-0 win over Thierry Henry's Montreal Impact.
This game was clearly a friendly. Neither team looked too interested in forcing the issue. Instead, the implementation of the systems took early precedence. Both teams weren't too risky with the way they were set up and nominated to keep possession instead of looking for the killer pass. Defensively, both teams looked very sturdy, with chances coming few and far between.
The best chance of the half came from Montreal after an initial save from Pedro Gallese turned into a double save worthy of the nickname "The Octopus." A close-range shot was saved on Pedro's left side and fell to a Montreal player on the right side. Amidst the chaos, the Montreal player shot towards a seemingly empty net until a strong right leg flew out and parried the ball out for a corner. It was an impressive action from the Peruvian on his debut.
The only goal of the match came from our captain Luis Nani shortly after the save. Nani scored a direct free-kick that was won in a transition phase. The team won the ball in midfield and instantly looked to move forward. Nani was taken down while powering towards the box and he made them pay for their mistake.
The second half was a lot slower with a few injuries and plenty of substitutions slowing down the flow of the game. Yet again, the best chance fell to Montreal. This one, however, came from a brilliant piece of individual play from former Pareja player Maxi Urruti. He passed the oncoming Schlegel with ease before dribbling to the left side of the 6-yard box and hitting his near post shot off the woodwork. Montreal will feel unlucky to not get a goal out of this game after two clear-cut chances went begging.
The rest of the game consisted of both teams substituting players. Orlando brought on Akindele, Mendez, Mueller, Perea, Loera, and Smith from the bench. With all of these changes, the game looked as though it would peter out until the last 10 minutes happened. Montreal started to go for the equalizer, which opened up lots of space for our attackers. A chance came for both sides but no goals went in and the ref blew his whistle.
Rodrigo Schlegel was nothing short of a revelation today. An unknown quantity out of Racing Club, Schlegel surprisingly looked the more experienced of the two new CB's. He was directing the defense and was very vocal in the back. He was also very strong in possession and won all but one of his tackles. If he puts in these sorts of performances week in week out, he's a nailed-on starter for me.
There's a reason why his nickname is "The Bear." Junior Urso is massive. He also managed to produce a massive performance today. He was a rock in the midfield and helped the team keep possession in tight areas. From today's performance, he looks worth way more than the $900,000 we paid for him.
Junior Urso's midfield counterpart Uri Rosell was also very impressive today. Rosell thrived in the possession-based system that he knows best after coming through Barcelona's La Masia. He was assured in the tackle and played those accurate long balls that we've come to expect from him. It was a huge compliment from Pareja to take him off the field so early as I'm sure he was pleased with what he saw.
Early in the game, Kamal Miller was not looking promising. His touch was poor and he got bypassed too easily one or two times. Kamal grew into the game though and was solid for the remainder of it.
Jhegson Mendez looked bang average after coming off the bench today. He played a few loose passes that resulted in dangerous counterattacks. He also looked like he wasn't sure where to be in certain situations. Sometimes he was too far forward and other times he was too deep. He will be looking to improve in his next opportunity.
It was a good win for the team and I'm sure that Pareja learned a lot about his players today. Defensively, the team looked pretty solid but we failed to create many chances. We'll have to improve in that aspect if we want to make history this season. I will say, take all of this with a grain of salt. This is our first public preseason game and the players are still out of shape. However, If we can perform like this while out of shape, who knows what the possibilities are once we are fully fit.
'Til next time, this has been Gavin Rushnell and #VamosOrlando.