Sunday, April 16, 2017

Orlando City SC 2-1 Los Angeles Galaxy: Stage Fright?

Don't know what it is either. Just found it under "stage fright."
It’s not even summer and it already sucks to play in Orlando. As the broadcast booth reminded viewers incessantly during the game, Orlando has won every home game in their new stadium; at four games, that’s more than any other team in Major League Soccer history. That’s neat and impressive, certainly, but it’s a stretch to call Orlando a well-oiled machine.

Consider Orlando’s opening goal: Will Johnson can and will make that aggressive run (especially if one told him he could not), but I’d bet he doesn’t score that goal more than once in every 20 attempts. it was a wild shot, basically, one that took a lucky strike to go where it did. Next, consider Orlando’s most dangerous player on the day, Carlos Rivas. The more I watched Rivas – a fast player, certainly, but one whose speed papers over his technical deficiencies – the more he felt like a human embodiment of Orlando as a team; he, like them, is capable, but he’s not even sort of elegant. All in all, Orlando has a plan to beat opponents, but it feels closer to accurate to describe said plan as “concocted,” as opposed to “constructed.”

The Los Angeles Galaxy was the team they beat (2-1…am I just getting to that?), but it was close and came late, which just means it followed a familiar script for this weekend (lots o’ late goals). Cyle Larin bagged the winner around the 90th minute by overpowering Jermaine Jones in the area – and that also felt fitting. Jones spent too much of this game distracted by bullshit to the point of near-disengagement, so one final switch off wrapped things up nicely (or, in fairness, maybe Larin’s just too damn big for Jones). Jones, along with the rest of LA took far too long to get started; they might have even owed their late little roll to a couple personnel and formation changes by Orlando’s Jason Kreis (lookin’ at Luis Gil for Cristian Higuita, in particular). Whatever caused it, a handful of players bestirred themselves to give Romain Alessandrini – who has been LA’s only reliable danger-man – some goddamn help out there. Yes, even Giovani dos Santos.

If that sounds hard on the latter, blame anyone who talked up how LA would become dos Santos’ team in 2017. On the evidence (and with one big exception), he doesn’t seem to want it. If there’s a strange sub-plot in this whole thing, it’s the fact that LA looked better, more polished on those occasions when they did things well. Orlando, for their part, scored just one more goal and that’s what matters.

OK, closing this out with a couple talking points for each team.

Orlando City
- When shit started falling apart for Orlando, Jonathan Spector and Joe Bendik kept…well, stuck with this metaphor, they kept piling it back up. I dipped into a soccer podcast this weekend (first time in a couple weeks; Extratime Radio), where someone noted that Spector has been good – especially on the ground. Spector held up his end on Saturday.
- Scott Sutter looked like a solid presence at (was it?) right back.
- I still have yet to be impressed with Antonio Nocerino. And he’s still playing there…
- I do want to underline the points made above on Rivas. He proved a surprisingly reliable outlet and his powerful runs (especially this one) repeatedly found him in good place. He also utterly blew several passes made from said good places. This could have been a blow-out with a more technical player…but could that technical player have made those runs? Oh, and hitting the post twice is nothing to sniff at (three times, actually). Turning now to LA, who have several things to sniff at…

Los Angeles Galaxy
- Joao Pedro is genuinely terrible. I saw him blow every facet of a defensive midfielders game yesterday. If he doesn’t improve, or if LA doesn’t replace him, they’re in for a long season. Especially if Jones either slips up or falls off.
- I noticed Emmanuel Boateng slipping inside on several occasions to help LA transition out of their end, especially in the second half, but his first half presented as weirder. I kept spotting him WAY the hell up on Orlando’s right, but LA struggled to get him the ball , or to find a way to get Ashely Cole (who also way the hell up) to combine with him. That caused problems. For LA.
- Alessandrini looks every inch like a great acquisition. Relentless, smart, technically-sound, he’s just about the only unqualified bright spot for LA this season (even if he's not perfect).
- The last 20 minutes of this game showed that LA can play, which begs the question of why they’re not otherwise. Those 20 minutes might have been the only time dos Santos, in particular, stood out. At this point in the season, though, LA appears broken and going both ways. Alessandrini deserves better if nothing else.

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