Orlando City SC forward Dom Dwyer (14) celebrates with midfielder Tony Rocha (8) as he scores a goal against the Toronto FC during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Orlando City got its first win since May 6 by defeating Toronto FC 2-1 on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium. It was James O’Connor’s first win as head coach of the Lions, and the victory snapped a nine-loss losing streak in MLS play. Here are three things we learned from the match:
No spot is safe
It doesn’t matter who you are. Like right back RJ Allen said before Orlando City’s match against Toronto FC, if you’re not getting the job done, new coach James O’Connor will find someone who will.
So, goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. got his first MLS start of the season on Saturday. Joe Bendik has had a rough season so far – sometimes through no fault of his own. After giving up four goals against LAFC in O’Connor’s debut, Bendik missed a match for a reason other than injury for the first time in his tenure with Orlando City.
Edwards certainly made his case to start on a regular basis. He had three saves and was solid with his distribution – particularly in the first half. Orlando City’s back line played better than it has in recent matches, so Edwards had more to work with, but there’s no denying his individual performance was good.
“He’s given everyone a ton of confidence,” Edwards said about O’Connor.
“He’s pushed us, demanded really hard commitment and work ethic. But he’s told everyone, he keeps reiterating, ‘I will play anybody that I think will give me the best chance to win.’ I think that should instill confidence in everybody. You can see the level in training getting better and I think he’s, like I said, instilling confidence in everybody and happy we were able to get the win tonight.”
Midfielder Tony Rocha came in and played well. That should be no surprise, as he’s been a valuable and versatile player this season. Chris Schuler filled in well at centerback again. Will Johnson was good as a defensive mid alongside Yoshi Yotún.
Winger and typical starter Justin Meram wasn’t even in the 18.
Star striker Dom Dwyer said all spots are “up for grabs now.”
“You’ve got a new coach coming in, he’s going to play the guys that are playing the best performing when in training,” he said. “It’s important for every single player to go out there and perform every single day in training and get better each week. Spots open up, rotation happens, and every guy is going to be needed this year for us to get where we want to get to.”
Orlando City’s attack was sharper
The Lions weren’t dominant in possession (46.5 percent compared to 53.5) but they made the most of their time with the ball.
Unlike in previous games, where the Lions kept possession, but didn’t do much with the ball, Orlando City pressured TFC and put seven shots on target. Striker Dom Dwyer took five shots and four were on frame. His blast at TFC goalkeeper Alexander Bono led to Orlando City’s first goal.
Sacha Kljestan was great with his distribution and created three chances. Chris Mueller was active all night and assisted on Dwyer’s goal.
Could the Lions have been more clinical? Sure. Mueller had two golden chances go begging, the long balls from Yotún weren’t there. Sometimes the passing in the final third was a bit off.
But Orlando City looked like a threat to score with the ball. When crosses were sent into the box, it’s not that no one was making a run, it was that the pass just didn’t connect.
“There are areas where we would all want to be better at, but there’s a hunger and a desire from the players to want to play,” O’Connor said. “There were some great passages, some lovely movements and some good chance-creation, which was pleasing.”
Let’s not get carried away
O’Connor said it himself: This wasn’t Orlando City’s best.
“There were some lovely passages of play, but there’s lots of things that I think we can be sharper on, we want to be sharper on,” he said.
“But it’s going to take a little bit of time. But we’re delighted with the win. I thought there were some lovely passages, some really good movement. I thought we created a number of opportunities. We just need to be a little bit more clinical. But we can be really proud of the players’ effort tonight.”
This was a good win for Orlando City. It snapped a franchise-record losing streak and it was just the second win in franchise history for Orlando City over TFC.
But Toronto has been in shambles this since the end of the CONCACAF Champions League. The Reds are winless in their past six matches and have struggled with injuries all season.
Orlando City sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference table, five points away from a playoff spot. Sixth-place Montreal has played two more games than Orlando City, but if the Lions want to climb back above the red line, they must string together wins.
This can’t be a one-off. Orlando City will likely devote resources to beating the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday in U.S. Open Cup play, but attention must be paid to a looming road match against the Columbus Crew on Saturday.