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Rookie Chris Mueller’s success among three things we learned from Orlando City win

Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer (center) celebrates with defender Mohamed El-Munir (13) and forward Stefano Pinho (29) after scoring against the Philadelphia Union during the first half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City earned a 2-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union on Friday in Talen Energy Stadium in a match coach Jason Kreis called the most complete game of the year. Here are three things we learned from Orlando City’s win:

1. Mueller making early MLS Rookie of the Year case

It’s early, but rookie Chris Mueller has been fantastic.

The Wisconsin product was awesome during preseason training and over the last two matches, he’s delivered on the promise he showed before the regular season got started.

Most of his impact has come from pure grit and near-constant running. There are two Orlando City players with multiple goals. One is Dom Dwyer – the man with four goals in three games – and the other is Mueller (two goals in six appearances).

“You need that sort of confidence,” Mueller said about his goal scoring after Orlando City’s 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union.

After the match, he was more concerned with team success.

“It is what it is,” he said. “It’s more important to get the points, but [scoring goals] definitely helps.”

Against Philadelphia, he didn’t give up on trying to score even after he was dispossessed. He just kept running and the ball ended up back at his feet and hit put it in the back of the net.

His tenacity has caught the attention of his teammates.

“You saw it in preseason,” Dwyer said. “The kid’s a goal scorer. He’s hungry. He’s working hard and he’s getting his rewards. I think he did fantastic tonight. Very, very proud of him again. Excited for his potential. I’ve been keeping good tabs on him, pushing him in training. Yeah, I’m excited.”

He already had the attention of coach Jason Kreis.

“Chris scored that goal just through sheer will and never-say-die attitude,” he said.

Striker Cyle Larin was the last Orlando City player to be named Rookie of the Year. In 2015, Larin scored 17 league goals in 27 appearances. Last year’s Rookie of the Year was Atlanta United midfielder Julian Gressel, who had nine assists – third most by a rookie in MLS history – to go with five goals in 32 appearances.

2. Defensive issues aren’t gone

The defensive issues that have plagued Orlando City didn’t disappear against Philadelphia, despite a clean sheet. Goalkeeper Joe Bendik had some truly epic saves and the Union just plain didn’t finish the job after some solid chances.

The defending was better, particularly in the middle third, but there’s room for improvement. Some of that has to do with health. Orlando made the trip to Philadelphia without starters Jonathan Spector (center back) and Scott Sutter (right back). Then right back RJ Allen went down with an injury.

Plus, despite Philadelphia’s recent form, the attacking trio of C.J. Sapong, Fafà Picault and David Accam has solid. The three can create chances, they just can’t finish them.

The Union created nine chances and had six shots on target, but were at their most dangerous in the beginning of the match. Orlando City spent a lot of time in recovery mode during the first 30 minutes, but credit where credit is due: the Lions still shut out the Union.

“The cohesion of the back four and the balance of the players in front of them was the best it’s been, by far,” Kreis said.

“Tonight, I think we saw, kind of for the first time a collective mindset that we weren’t going to give anything away defensively. I think that led to us be very balanced, very well-organized and shut them down pretty well.

3. Orlando City’s depth on full display

Orlando City’s starting XI featured a rookie, a first-year MLS player a few weeks removed from an ankle injury and two players on the back line who didn’t start in the club’s last match.

That didn’t matter. Mueller scored his second goal in two games. Stéfano Pinho continued to infuse speed into Orlando City’s attack. RJ Allen didn’t get too far into the match before suffering an injury, but the center back pairing of Lamine Sané and Amro Tarek did just fine.

Of course, the Lions would like to have their starters in at all times. Justin Meram – who started the first five matches for Orlando City – came on in the 64th minute. He’s been pretty busy with national team duty and had a short week to prepare, so don’t expect him to be out of the starting XI for long.

Spector, Allen and Sutter will continue to be evaluated, but Kreis touted his club’s depth during preseason training. It looks like he was right to have confidence in what his club can do even without its usual starters.

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