Orlando City fans at long last got glimpse into what the Lions could look like with James O’Connor at the helm from the start of preseason.
It was just a friendly, but there was a lot to see in the Lions’ first match of the Orlando City Invitational, especially from the team’s new players.
“I’d say, if we’re looking at the amount of positives tonight, there’s a load that we can be really pleased about, but the danger is people get carried away,” O’Connor said. “It’s preseason. Again, the understanding was great, very encouraged by the performance, but again, it’s preseason.”
The Lions put forth their first multi-goal performance of the year during Saturday’s 2-1 victory over NYCFC, a team they played three times last season and couldn’t score a goal against.
“Players deserve enormous credit, because they’ve worked exceptionally hard through preseason,” O’Connor said. “For a lot of them, that was their 90 minutes, so to put in that level of performances after all the work they’ve done is a testament and they deserve enormous credit for that.”
NYCFC struck first, thanks to a goal against the run of play from Maxi Moralez. The Lions had controlled possession up until that point – the Pigeons hadn’t even taken a shot – but Moralez struck from nearly 30 yards out to give New York City a 1-0 advantage in the 30th minute.
After a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Union in a scrimmage earlier in the week, O’Connor said he wanted to see the team respond better after conceding a goal. The Lions responded to NYCFC opening the scoring with two goals in three minutes.
The first came thanks to new striker Tesho Akindele, who used the outside of his foot to direct a headed ball from Sacha Kljestan into the back of the net. New left back Danilo Acosta sent in the cross into the penalty area for Kljestan.
“I think the main thing was just reaction after the goal,” Akindele said. “Against Philly, we were playing, I think, really well. The first 30 minutes, I thought we were dominating them. And then when they scored, we just collapsed.
“We were dominating, they scored, and we rebounded quickly and took the game back.”
A strong challenge from Sebas Méndéz started the sequence that lead to goal No. 2. Mendez dispossessed an NYCFC player and played the ball to Kljestan, who found Akindele. Chris Mueller received the ball from Akindele down the left side and Mueller finished the sequence with a goal.
Even if Mueller hadn’t shot, Akindele continued his run into the penalty area to provide support – something else O’Connor said was missing last season.
“I got to give [Akindele] for the goal, because he dragged that defender with him away from me, essentially, with the ball,” Mueller said. “He wasn’t able to jump in front and try to force me to make a play because if he would have came even closer, I would have passed to Tesho that would have also been a 100-percent goal, which it was.”
Orlando City’s other new players showed flashes of what they could do. Second-round SuperDraft pick and Syracuse product Kamal Miller came up with a block in the 68th minute to preserve Orlando City’s lead. Brazilian right back Ruan’s speed was on display for most of the night, though he went down in the 78th minute and was subbed off for OCB player Jordan Bender. Centerback Alex DeJohn looked comfortable with the ball at his feet.
O’Connor said Ruan cramped up during the game.
For most of the night, Orlando City’s formation was fluid. O’Connor has deployed three-centerback formations throughout the preseason and did so again Saturday night, but players moved to where they were needed. Mendez ended up on the back line a few times. Midfielder Will Johnson was behind Ruan a few times when the latter was involved in the attack.
Orlando City plays the New England Revolution Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the final match of the Orlando City Invitational.
“There’s a couple of areas we could sharper at, we could be crisper at,” O’Connor said. “I think, overall, if you look at where we’ve started from, we’re three and a half weeks in, we’re approaching four weeks now, to see the understanding of attacking and defensive principles was very, very encouraging.”