1) It was a lovely evening. The temperature was a balmy 82 degrees; humidity was relatively low (by Florida evening standards); the field was immaculate; the stadium was largely full. And then the game started, and it all went to hell.
2) If ever there was a 2-1 ‘thrashing,’ OCSC was thrashed 2-1 by ATL in their own stadium on Friday night. It looked close on paper, but the gulf between the two teams was miles wide in reality. The Lions were out-played, heavily, in almost every phase of the game.
3) The first half was actually relatively encouraging. The narrow, defensive lineup that James O’Connor sent out against ATL limited the best team in the league to a handful of clear chances (albeit one glaring miss from Martinez) and might have kept it clean but for Joe Bendik’s fumble.
4) New signing Carlos Ascues looked extremely solid alongside Uri Rosell as the 2 D-Mids, and is clearly one for the future, a skilful CB who can also play in front of the back four with power and vision.
5) Although OCSC was out-shot 9-4 in the first half, they had much the better of the final 15 minutes, denying ATL possession and creating their best moment of the night (month?) with a brilliant team goal, beautifully finished by Scott Sutter.
6) At 1-1 at the half, and with that period of ascendancy under their belts, we expected the team to come roaring out for the second period and really challenge the Supporters Shield leaders. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…
7) What happened next was hard to understand and even harder to stomach. The Lions simply mailed it in. Ascues ran out of gas, the MF was over-run, and the team struggled to string two passes together. ATL queued up to take shots at Bendik (who saved nearly all of them, it should be said).
8) There were NINE clear chances for the visitors in 21 minutes before Martinez finally broke through in the 74th minute at the end of a typical OCSC transition breakdown. Ballgame. ATL shut up shop after that but always looked like they could score more if they felt like it.
9) The Lions managed ONE attempt on goal (a good header by Dwyer from a corner). In 45 minutes. With the game on the line & The Wall roaring them on. One. It was beyond miserable. They created precisely nothing and got what they deserved, which was exactly nothing.
10 a) Yes, the team was without Kljestan, Yotun and Higuita through injury/suspension, but the abject surrender in that 2nd half is something we haven’t seen before & is now the big worry for O’Connor.
10 b) There were still whole-hearted efforts from several notables, including Mueller, PC, Sutter, O’Neill and Spector, but it’s hard to credit how bad the collective performed, and that could be really difficult to overcome in the final 9 (dead) games of the season.
10 c) The team is rock bottom in the East and only woeful San Jose has fewer points in the league. In soccer speak, your league position is who you are. After four seasons in MLS, Orlando City is falling further and further behind and a MAJOR overhaul is necessary.
10 d) These last 9 games, starting with Philly on Sat, are an audition for the future, pure and simple. O’Connor needs to find out which players should be here next year, and who isn’t up to the job. With the obvious exceptions of Dom, Yoshi, Spector, Sutter, Rosell, Higuita, Ascues, Mueller and Kljestan, everyone else is playing for their place. And the clock is ticking…