What Will Orlando Be Like on the Field in 2014?

With just one game in the books, the Lions are still building
by Chris Kimball   |   Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Purple Pride – column on Orlando City SC (OCSC) & the Orlando & Central Florida area soccer scene.

The first game of a new season can be difficult to evaluate. There is such anticipation leading up to the opening match that emotion often becomes the enemy of reason. Every team starts the season tied in the standings, which engenders among fans a feeling of infinite promise. The teams themselves are filled with new players desperate to make an immediate impression. And even the coach can't really know what team he has until he sees the players under the bright lights of actual league competition.

So what should we make of Orlando City's season opener, a 1-1 draw versus Charleston Battery to open the 2014 USL PRO campaign? Did we see a tenacious squad fighting back to earn a precious point on the road? Or did we see a team with excellent ball possession but lacking a creative spark? Or something else?

Evaluating this club after one match would be like surveying travelers at Orlando International Airport to determine whether mouse ears make cool hats. The sample size is just a wee bit too narrow.

Finding balance

With so many positive winter acquisitions, and following an impressive performance at the Disney Pro Soccer Classic, City fans would have been forgiven for thinking their opener would be something of a cakewalk. But that was never going to happen.

Despite City's historically strong record against the club from South Carolina, the Battery have always been a tough opponent. Factor in that for this season Charleston have received five players on loan from the Vancouver Whitecaps, including the talented No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick Omar Salgado, and it becomes clear why the Battery are now, more than ever, among the front runners for the league title.

Still, for much of the match, City was the superior side, maintaining possession and methodically working the ball forward per their usual scheme. Luke Boden, in particular, was outstanding at overlapping on the left and delivering passes in the final third. Orlando's eventual equalizer was, in fact, the result of a well-deposited Boden cross. That Orlando's leftback was able to so consistently release himself and then deliver into the box is either a testament to his great skill or an indictment of Charleston's right side defense, or both.

Conversely, the delivery from the right side was somewhat meager. Tyler Turner, in his first match as a professional, seemed reluctant to force play forward, perhaps by design. When crosses were attempted from the starboard touch line, whether by Turner, da Luz, or someone else, they consistently lacked pace and accuracy. Manager Adrian Heath will undoubtedly be looking to rectify this imbalance soon enough.

A team possessed

Ball possession without scoring opportunities is like a song without a chorus. Sure, the constant build up can be fun. But at some point you want to put your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care.

On Saturday, Charleston were more than happy to sacrifice ball possession as they looked to create scoring chances off speedy counterattacks. It was a valid strategy. Charleston has excellent speed up top. Orlando likes to push its outside backs forward. But Boden and Turner are not necessarily "burners" so at some point there's a risk of becoming exposed. Should possession quickly change sides, Orlando's defense might find itself unable to track back or recover with sufficient pace.

This strategy paid off for the home club in the 64th minute when the Lions were caught off guard as the Battery launched forward and took a 1-0 lead despite having been on the defensive for much of the game.

Depending on your point of view, Charleston's "park the bus" game plan was either extremely effective, or not quite good enough. Regardless, it's a strategy OCSC manager Adrian Heath knows other teams will be emulating this season when they face the purple and white.

"When you get teams that actually give you that much respect," the gaffer said this week in an official team release, "then we have to come up with a solution to the problem."

What the solution is should reveal itself soon enough.

NEXT UP: March 29 - Orlando City vs. Pittsburgh Riverhounds, ESPN's Wide World of Sports, Kissimmee, FL. 7:30pm EST. YouTube live stream.

Chris KIMBALL

Nationality:
USA
College:
William & Mary
Club Domestic:
Orlando City
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Christopher is editor of Orlando Soccer Daily, covering the beautiful game for central Florida. A retired music exec turned soccer fanatic, he landed in Florida via Paris & Boston. When not working he's usually chasing after his 2 sons or suffering after
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