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Three takeaways from Orlando City’s first win of 2019 season

New York Red Bulls midfielder Omir Fernandez (21) plays the ball against Orlando City SC defender Robin Jansson (6) during the first half at Red Bull Arena. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)

HARRISON, N.J. — Orlando City (1-1-2, 5 points) earned its first win of the season Saturday night, defeating the New York Red Bulls (1-1-1, 4 points) at Red Bull Arena in front of an announced crowd of 15,108. Here are three takeaways from the match: 

1. A building block

The win was Orlando City’s first road victory since April 2018. Midfielder Sacha Kljestan said Orlando City “badly” needed the victory.

“The biggest thing for me was that we won,” Kljestan said. “I mean, we desperately needed a win and a road win to kind of boost the confidence of our group. So that was huge.”

Orlando City came out determined to prove last week’s 3-1 loss to the Montreal Impact wasn’t representative of what the team can do. Kljestan also said the team “learned its lesson” from its 1-1 draw with Chicago, where it gave up a stoppage time goal and had to settle for just a point.

It looks like the Lions are learning to close out matches.

“We learned out lesson from the Chicago game,” Kljestan said after praising the Lions’ defensive performance. “Where, as the game wore on and it got late, we took the ball to the corner and we used up our time and we defended well. All those aspects, the performance was very good.” 

The Lions went back to the three-centerback formation they saw success with in the first two games of the season. Coach James O’Connor said his team showed its quality on Saturday, proving its performance against Montreal wasn’t a reflection of its skills. 

“I think, again, when you get a victory like tonight, everyone will analyze everything,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s important now that we don’t get too high. You know, I think it’s trying to keep that balance.

“I thought the defenders tonight were very good. But, equally, I thought the understanding of the players in front, as well, blocking passing lanes and making it difficult for New York to play in areas that they want, I thought they did a really good job. And then transition, I thought it was very, very good tonight.”

2. Jansson’s performance

New centerback Robin Jansson was solid in his first performance as a Lion. He played a full 90 minutes and had two tackles, eight clearances – six of which were either inside or around the six-yard box – seven recoveries and three interceptions.

A club spokesman confirmed to Pro Soccer USA Jansson arrived in New Jersey Friday night on a flight separate from the rest of the team. He was out of the country settling visa paperwork and missed some training time leading up to Saturday’s match.

“I felt good,” Jansson said after the win. “It was a nice start to go here and get the three points. A solid performance from the whole team, over the whole pitch. Sacha makes the goal and very important for us. We needed three points and we get them today and take them with us on the flight back to Orlando. I’m very happy.”

Jansson also praised the communication between the centerbacks.  

“We talked very much to each other and helped each other and covered up for each other,” Jansson said. “That’s very important in the back line, to always cover each other. You never know when someone makes, maybe, a wrong footstep and then you have to be there to cover for your friend and teammate. That’s team spirit and that’s what we showed today.”

Plus, Jansson was able to get his first start on a chilly night in New Jersey. O’Connor said it would take Jansson, a native of Sweden, some time to acclimate to the heat in Central Florida.

“I felt like I was back home in Sweden,” Jansson said with a smile. “That was good.”

3. Lineup questions

Despite the win, there were some questions regarding why Orlando City young designated player Josué Colmán wasn’t in the 18.

“I think when you look at that, we sat down, we went through, ‘Look, how are New York going to play?’” O’Connor said. “What in the game are we going to need that, maybe is going to cause them problems? I think again when you look at Santiago [Patiño] tonight, Dom [Dwyer] on the bench, [Chris] Mueller’s on the bench, we wanted to reward Benji [Michel], as well.

“I think, for us, it was a game of looking at, maybe, what New York would do. Hold a very high line and then have somebody like Benji, who is … I would akin Benji to an Olympic sprinter, he’s that quick. Again, it was just a different weapon that maybe we needed with Dom and Mueller on the bench.”

O’Connor said Dwyer was on the bench because he’s trying to manage the star striker’s minutes after he missed the majority of preseason training. With Akindele injured, Dwyer has been thrust into action sooner than expected. A club spokesman said Danilo Acosta’s minutes are also being managed.

O’Connor has shown a willingness to tweak his lineup throughout his time with Orlando City. Against the New York Red Bulls, the tweaks worked out. João Moutinho played well on the left side of the pitch, Patiño showed he’s still improving, Carlos Ascues improved as the game went on and was critical late and Uri Rosell was a force in the middle of the pitch with seven tackles.

“We’ve spoken a lot about ‘next man up’ mentality and I think when you look at the players who stepped in tonight, all did exceptionally well,” O’Connor said.

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