Orlando City coach Jason Kreis spoke about effort and the willingness to run throughout the preseason, and in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United, effort and running made the difference.
The Lions practiced what Kreis spent months preaching.
The obvious example came in the 79th minute of the match.
Orlando City was hunting for an equalizer after a first-half goal from D.C. United’s Yamil Asad. With players committed forward – including the team’s full backs – United had a chance to seal the match as Darren Mattocks broke away with the ball.
Mattocks is a player with plenty of speed, even with the ball at his feet. He had a head start. He was entering the penalty area. And new left back Mohamed El-Munir, making his first-ever Orlando City appearance, ran him down to ensure the Lions stayed at a one-goal disadvantage before Stéfano Pinho’s stoppage-time equalizer.
Great recovery run and last-ditch challenge by Mohamed El-Munir to block the shot from Mattocks, one of the fastest players in #MLS. Crucial play. #OCSC #DCU #ORLvDC #MLSisBack pic.twitter.com/KqZeBCGawH
— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) March 4, 2018
It was a play that left forward Justin Meram, who had his own moments of brilliance in the match, searching for words.
“Speechless to be honest,” Meram said after the match.
“That was … that’s pure determination. That’s pure heart of, ‘I’m gonna leave everything on the line for my teammates’. I mean you look at the numbers for Mohamed, how much he ran in that game and [Darren] Mattocks with his speed, to take off with a head start. Mohamed did catch him and make a save.
“Without that play we don’t tie this game. So I tip my hat off to him.”
It was the type of play that allowed an Orlando City side that competed down a man for the entire second half to secure a hard-earned point.
After the match, Kreis said he would have been proud of his group, even if the Lions never got the equalizer they battled for.
“I thought everybody really put everything that they could into that game,” he said. “I think all of the players left everything out there. All of them emptied their tanks. Couldn’t be prouder.”
Speaking specifically about El-Munir’s chase down of Mattocks, he said, “When you look at the play that he had to sprint 60, 70 yards to make a defensive stop on their striker. … That, for me, was a game-changer.”
The Lions return to action at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday against Minnesota United at Orlando City Stadium.
Meram, Spector earn MLS weekly honors
Justin Meram, who had a secondary assist on Saturday to help set up Pinho’s match-tying goal, on Monday was named to the MLS Team of the Week.
Meram played a critical role in Orlando City’s success and set the tone for the club’s attack in the second half.
“That’s what I have to do each and every game,” Meram said. “That’s how my role was in my previous club. It’s passing, moving, shooting, crossing, combinations, and I think that’s what makes me dangerous at times.”
Captain Jonathan Spector was named to the bench. The center back was near the end line when he found Pinho in the third minute of stoppage time.
“Yeah, we drew it up at training,” Meram said jokingly.
He added, “That’s a heads-up play by Spector to make a pass and keep going. And that just shows the determination and heart of this team. I love that.”