Sure, it was just a 1-1 draw, but Orlando City’s result Saturday night against D.C. United had the feel of a victory.
Stéfano Pinho’s stoppage time goal – set up by a fantastic ball from forward Justin Meram that found team captain Jonathan Spector, who then found Pinho – salvaged a point for the Lions, who played down a man for nearly 50 minutes.
Here are three things we learned from Saturday’s season opener:
1. This really is the team Kreis wants
Not sure there’s a coach in the world more proud of a 1-1 draw than Orlando City coach Jason Kreis. It was a result earned by a side playing down man for the majority of the match and it proved effort won’t be an issue for this group.
D.C. United was content to sit back and try to absorb pressure from a shorthanded Orlando City side, and the Lions made United pay by being relentless.
“There was some very good soccer tonight,” Kreis said. “We out-possessed D.C. United on a night where we were down a man for 60 minutes. I think that says something. I do believe there’s still lots of room for improvement. Obviously, it’s a first night. But as I said before, couldn’t be happier with it.”
It’s just one game. Things could go south in a hurry. But they could also keep improving. Orlando City gave real, unrelenting effort Saturday night in front of an announced crowd of 25,527.
Justin Meram, who assisted on Pinho’s game-winning goal, said the team is focused on collective success.
“I mean, I look at the roster this year and this is a bunch of hard-working individuals coming together collectively to come together for a common goal, and that’s to win games, and it’s not by individual qualities,” he said. “It’s by the way we pass and move and on that play, that’s kind of how we are, or who we are.”
Orlando City's Justin Meram, center, collides with D.C. United goalkeeper David Ousted, left, during an MLS soccer match Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Orlando, Fla. The game ended in a 1-1 draw. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
2. Meram is the veteran player Orlando City needs
With so many players out, Meram is a steadying force who could very well carry the Lions through the first part of the season. Veteran midfielder Sacha Kljestan will miss at least one more game, striker Dom Dwyer is still out with an injury and holding mid Uri Rosell’s fitness is still in question after he was acquired late in the preseason.
With so many players out, Meram is the go-to guy in Orlando City’s attack and he’s just fine with that. He’ll likely be the club’s main man for at least one more match, so it’s good he’s comfortable in his role as a leader.
“I’m a veteran in this league and I was brought here to bring quality,” he said. “That’s what I have to do each and every game.”
3. Orlando City’s rookies have potential
Chris Mueller and Cam Lindley started for a reason and will likely see minutes even after the team gets certain players back. Both did just fine in their MLS debuts.
“I’m pleased in general,” Kreis said. “Both of them had some shaky moments, as I knew they would, right off the bat, but both of them recovered quite well. I would have to say that I think they should both feel pretty good about their performances.
“Now, would they both be thinking that they could do better? Absolutely. And I do as well. But I have no doubts that they will.”