Orlando City staff sends right messages but lacks wiggle room

By Ridge Mahoney

So after hammering the defending MLS champion LA Galaxy as more than 40,000 people in a sea of purple roared and celebrated, what does Orlando City SC do next?

Hopefully, the Lions can figure a few things out and build on a big win. With both expansion teams struggling -- they’ve won a combined four games out of 22 -- NYCFC can look forward to the arrival of Frank Lampard to boost fortunes in midseason. NYCFC also has an open Designated Player spot.

The Lions don’t that much wiggle room. While Kaka has been as good as advertised -- his play on the field has ranged from good to exceptional and off the field he’s popular and engaging -- the other two slots occupied by Carlos Rivas and Bryan Rochez have yielded little. Rivas, 21, has played nine games (two starts) and is pointless in 245 minutes of play. Like several Lions, he’s been bothered by hamstring injuries. Rochez, 20, has played 80 minutes in six substitute appearances without notching a goal or an assist and is now off with Honduras for the U-20 World Cup.

Both players are very young and can’t be expected to shoulder a major burden, but they are occupying DP slots that many other teams have filled with stronger, more experienced attacking players. Youth hasn’t been a deterrent for Rafael Ramos, a 20-year-old Portuguese defender who has played in nine of OCSC’s 11 games. He’s already shown he can get up and down the flank and hit a good cross, as he did to set up the first goal last weekend. His defensive work needs improvement but he’s keeping a spot in the lineup, so he’s impressing the right people.

A hamstring injury suffered by Pedro Ribeiro on April 3 further depleted the front line, but the solid play of rookie forward Cyle Larin has offset his absence. Ribeiro hasn’t played in the six games since suffering his injury.

In the last three games, Luke Boden has shown that he’s a good alternative at left back to Brek Shea, who set up OCSC's first goal with a header that bounced nicely for Eric Avila to stab into the net. Larin contributed to the goal off the ball; he darted to the near post as the right-wing cross from Ramos soared over his head to Shea. 

If Larin is making that kind of progress just a dozen games into his MLS career, that’s a clear sign that head coach Adrian Heath and his staff are sending the right messages. The timing of Larin’s run was that of a veteran, similar to what Red Bull midfielder Sacha Kljestan did when the Red Bulls scored their first goal in the 2-1 derby defeat of New York City FC.

Both runs drew a pair of defenders though Larin darted aggressively to pull his markers with him and Kljestan just drifts into the space after releasing the ball. Larin has scored a goal in each of his last three games and has four on the season. Continued success will draw increased attention from opponents, so Orlando City needs a few attacking alternatives to take pressure off the rookie as well as Kaka, who also has four goals as well as two assists.

Unfortunately, the Lions can’t count on Kevin Molino, a two-time USL MVP and budding MLS star who suffered an ACL injury in a friendly May 3 and is probably out for the season. His injury prompted Heath to move Avila to right mid for the past three games against New England, D.C. United and the Galaxy, with Shea moving up into midfield and Boden joining the back line.

Amobi Okogu, 24, is regarded as one of the league’s better young players, yet against the Galaxy Cristian Higuita, 21, replaced him in the starting lineup and played a very solid 75 minute alongside Darwin Ceren, who rounded off the rout by hitting a shot that deflected past Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo.

On the field, the Lions are still sorting out many things, but in the community and at the gate they are well ahead of most teams. They are averaging 37,446 fans per game at the Citrus Bowl and by trampling the defending champion the Lions gave their colorful, boisterous supporters a reward for suffering through several last-minute heartbreaks.

After two and half months, MLS’s return to Florida after a 14-year absence is pushing the right buttons despite the growing pains experienced by most expansion teams.  The Lions are rocking their city.

6 comments about "Orlando City staff sends right messages but lacks wiggle room".
  1. Glenn Maddock, May 19, 2015 at 4:43 p.m.

    It's a good start. They don't need to worry about their record the 1st year. But as I've said before, the test is in late summer, when the novelty fans stop coming, its 90 degrees and raining, and you're out of the playoff race.

  2. Mike Jacome, May 19, 2015 at 6:38 p.m.

    I'm impresed by both Orlando fans and Orlando Marketing department. I was on the skeptical side before the season and my most optimistic prediction was about 14,000 to 18,000 ppl per game. With the right strategies like the bundled Orlando/Galaxy - Mexico Costa Rica package, I think they can finish the season near the 40,000 mark, which would be a shocker. I totally believe OCSC needs to abort the construction of the SSS and keep playing in Citrus Bowl indefinitely.

  3. Rick Estupinan, May 19, 2015 at 8:49 p.m.

    Orlando fans deserves a much better team than the one I saw against LA.Either Los Angeles has a bad team or they had a bad day.But the truth is that Bruce Arena is not a competitive coach.I mean he just lays back and watch with a passive attitude as his team is being slaughtered But I just don't think this is the way his team plays in the current competition. What ever,but if it had been a better team,the "Orlando" would not have won this game so ease.Most of the players with the exception of Kaka and Shea,are no good.They need one or two good strikers from South America,like D.Valery of the "Timbers".

  4. Rick Estupinan, May 19, 2015 at 8:55 p.m.

    Even with bad weather,this Orlando fans will keep coming if they have a competitive team,a team that can win,no matter who is in the opposite side of the pitch.

  5. Tim Brown, May 20, 2015 at 11:33 a.m.

    Not bad for my old Austin Aztexs. That's where this team came from. Adrian Heath is a good coach and Phil Rawlins Owner are good folks. Watch out Orlando as Austin is now in USL and you may have to play us one day. Till then best of Luck to Phil, Adrian and the Lions.

  6. Paula Barrett, May 21, 2015 at 10:28 a.m.

    Hope the fans keep coming but ticket prices are ridiculously high. I have season tix for the Revs but when I went to the Revs game in Orlando, the only tickets they had left were in their supporters' section $34.50(no thanks) or the ones I bought which were $137 apiece, unbelievable. My Revs seats are better than those were and 1/4 the price. Good luck to families who want to enjoy a game.

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