Orlando City battled back for a 2-2 draw against NYCFC on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium, securing a point to open the season. Here are three takeaways from the match:
1. An offseason of improvement for Mueller
Second-year forward Chris Mueller looks poised for a breakout season.
He created five chances against NYCFC and scored a goal, sparking an Orlando City comeback that nearly ended with a victory. His goal came off a free kick – Mueller was the one taking the free kicks and the corner kicks against NYCFC.
“I just wanted to put it into a dangerous area and make sure that if no one got a touch onto it, it would creep into that back post area and that’s exactly what ended up happening,” Mueller said about his goal. “So, it was good to get the team back into the game.”
After the match, Mueller talked about the team’s performance before mentioning his own.
“I felt like overall the team’s performance was really good,” he said. “It definitely hurts not to get the three points on the first day, but I think that we showed a lot of character fighting back. As far as I go, I feel good, I feel confident and I was proud of how the team fought back.”
Were there times where he could have been a bit more decisive in the final third? Maybe. But against NYCFC, Mueller showed he’s improved after a strong rookie campaign.
“I think he’s a great kid,” coach James O’Connor said about Mueller.
“He’s someone that has the ability to adapt. I think that’s the biggest thing for Chris, there’s still some development there. He’s someone that we’re very passionate about trying to develop. We think he’s a great young man.
“Again, when you have someone that’s very open and very coachable, it gives the player a great chance because we feel as if we’re going to be able to teach a certain way. He’s someone that I think, I’ll go as far to say in the next years he could go and achieve some really great things.”
2. Designated players make an impact
Mueller’s performance throughout the match was strong, but things really changed for Orlando City when Dom Dwyer and Nani made their season debuts.
First, O’Connor said the roar from the crowd helped fuel Orlando City’s comeback, and the Wall was at its mightiest when Dwyer and Nani stepped on to the pitch.
Chances open up with players like Nani and Dwyer on the pitch. Nani’s pass to Dwyer was inch-perfect, and Dwyer’s ball – with two defenders closing in — to Tesho Akindele for the match-tying goal in the 75th minute was even better.
“That was something that we always felt, even at 2-nil down, that we could go and win the game because, candidly, when you look at the players and the supporters, we felt if we got one goal that the supporters would really lift the roof,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, Nani and Dom coming on, that got the crowd into it as well. I think that’s the opportunity that we have here with our supporters to really impact the game, as well.”
The two were on the pitch for about five minutes before they made magic happen.
Dwyer’s header nearly earned a penalty for Orlando City late in the match. His header likely would have found Nani in front of the goal if NYCFC centerback Maxime Chanot’s arm didn’t get in the way. No penalty was called – a controversial decision, to say the least – and Orlando City had to settle for a draw.
Even Josué Colmán showed what he’s capable of in limited minutes. He doesn’t look anywhere near as hesitant as he was last season.
3. Rookie centerback shines
Early on in the match, NYCFC went right at rookie centerback Kamal Miller, a Syracuse product whose signing was announced a day before the match.
Miller didn’t flinch.
It was just one match, but Miller performed well in his professional debut. He had three tackles, didn’t concede a foul, had four clearances and completed 81 percent of his 48 passes. He had the most touches (58) of any of Orlando City’s three centerbacks.
It was a good showing for the rookie.
“When you look at [right back] Kyle [Smith] and you look at Kamal, to make your debut in a game like that on, it’s not just national, it’s international TV, I thought they both acquitted themselves really, really well,” O’Connor said. “I think the mentality that they showed was fantastic. They’re two young players that we believe in.”
Orlando players Dom Dwyer (14), Will Johnson (4), and Nani (17) celebrate with Tesho Akindele (13) after Akindele scored the tying goal during the New York City Football Club at Orlando City Soccer MLS match at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, March 2, 2019. The game ended in a 2-2 tie. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)