Orlando City Holds On To Earn A Point with F.C. Cincinnati
In front of a home crowd of 18,062, Orlando City goes with five new starters in a 0-0 draw with F.C. Cincinnati.
My previous posts discussed all the work put in by Orlando City's front office during the off-season. Their effort was not only to top-grade the player pool, but ensure that there was enough quality and depth to handle the Lions' early season schedule. Early indication tells us that Luiz Muzzi has done just that, providing manager Oscar Pareja the ability to rotate, playing a tough Cincinnati side last night, and then with two days rest, playing a Champions League match on Tuesday night at Tigres' Estadio Universitario stadium. The following are my takeaways from last night's match with Cincinnati:
Orlando manager Oscar Pareja, with the very difficult Champions League match at Tigres on Tuesday night, changed out five starters from last week's 1-0 win versus the New York Red Bulls. While taking maximum points at home is key to finishing high up on the eastern conference table, Pareja went with a starting lineup that included Abdi Salim, Kyle Smith, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, Wilder Cartagena, and Gaston Gonzalez. At first glance, a bit of a risky proposition, especially on the backline, where Abdi Salim, a college draft selection from Syracuse, made his first appearance as a professional. Salim looked exposed early on, but after recognizing and adapting quickly to Cincinnati's speed of play, actually played very well with center back partner Rodrigo Schlegel.
Two other new starters to note: 1) Gaston Gonzalez, who made his first appearance for the Lions since a new injury incurred early on last season. Gonzalez obviously will need time to get his legs and feel comfortable on the ball, but it was clear that he can be very dangerous down the left flank. I would actually like to see Gonzalez get into the center of the pitch once in a while, as his runs with and without the ball are strong. 2) Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, the versatile midfielder, showed us great presence on the ball, unexpected pace, a massive work rate, and a good bit of tactical awareness especially in the waning minutes to help close out the match. There is no doubt that Thorhallsson will feature often for Orlando and help mitigate the issues with the congested match schedule.
Even after just two matches, securing a new contract with goalkeeper Pedro Gallese has yielded big dividends. While Cincinnati's finishing could have been more technical, Gallese's presence and leadership are incredibly important. Consider the backline of twenty-one-year-old rookie Abdi Salim, and three other defenders in Schlegel, Smith, and Halliday, who have not been everyday starters. Gallese holding together the back four, as well as his technical goalkeeping, will keep the Lions competitive in most matches.
Pareja made five substitutions in the second half, trying to keep minutes limited for Mauricio Pereyra, Facundo Torres, Rodrigo Schlegel, Ercan Kara, and Michael Halliday, with Tuesday's CCL match at Tigres on everyone's mind. After observing for a few minutes, I would enjoy seeing Gaston Gonzalez, Martin Ojeda, Luca Petrasso, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, and Ramiro Enrique on the field at the same time. I am not sure what type of shape and system could be employed, but these players all bring a different level to Orlando City.
With Inter Miami and New England on top of the table with two wins to open the season, Orlando City sits on four points, tied for second in the eastern conference. The quick turnaround for Tuesday night's CCL match at Tigres, then three days rest before traveling to Wayne Rooney's D.C. United, and then only three days rest before the home return match with Tigres, is part and parcel of why Orlando City changed up their player pool for this season. Oscar Pareja has a balancing act on his hands with trying to advance in the CCL while maximizing points with league matches. A very tough balancing act indeed.
Gary Levitt @gary1123 justmytake.net