Last night’s match did the Lions a lot of good. The team was tested and was able to score goals and get a win against a quality side while resting some key starters like Aurelien Collin, Carlos Rivas Donovan Ricketts, and Kaká (mostly).
It gave Head Coach Adrian Heath a chance to look at some of his depth players, and in some cases, like Brek Shea, seem some guys in different positions than where they’ve been playing for Orlando City.
Here are the five things that stood out for me on Saturday night at the Citrus Bowl:
The Kids are All Right
With goals from 20-year-olds Bryan Rochez and Cyle Larin, Heath saw what the team’s future attack will look like. Rochez was physical in attacking the corner kick he headed home. Larin’s hustle play forced Ponte Preta defender Pablo into a bad spot, forcing the penalty kick that the Canadian coolly slotted home in stoppage time.
"I'm delighted for them, they've both been working hard," Heath said. "Bryan will be better for getting some more minutes under his belt. He'll be better for getting the goal."
But it wasn’t just those two. Rookie goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. looked like a veteran when he stopped Biro Biro’s penalty kick. Harrison Heath played the entire 90 minutes and, although he was far from perfect, the teenager looked as if he belonged. Similarly, rookie defender Conor Donovan had some nervy moments but he was mostly steady at center back.
Boden Made His Case
Right back Luke Boden had a fairly strong game and certainly made his case for getting more minutes. His set pieces were dangerous, with a well-placed corner whipped in for Sean St. Ledger to nod home for Orlando’s second goal.
I could see how, at times that some opposing attackers' pace could give Boden some problems, but he mainly held his own position-wise and got forward in the attack when he could. One of the luxuries of playing Boden was…
Shea was Dynamic
After coming on for team captain Kaká, regular left back Brek Shea played in the midfield throughout the game and was a creative and dynamic attacking force. Shea used his size, strength and speed to go through, over and around Ponte Preta defenders, wreaking havoc for Orlando City and getting the ball into dangerous places.
"I was excited to have that freedom to go forward and try to create things," Shea said after the match.
Shea talked about the comfort level he had with knowing if he made a mistake and lost the ball, Boden was behind him to provide coverage. With freedom to express himself all over the pitch, it was the most attack-minded we've seen of Shea in his time with the club and Heath admitted after the game that his performance gave the coaching staff something to think about.
"I thought he was excellent," Heath said of Shea's performance. "A little bit of food for thought maybe, moving forward, because I thought Bodz (Luke Boden) came in and did well. We'll assess and see what's best for the group moving forward."
Friendlies are Frightening
There were injury scares throughout the night, but none worse than seeing Kevin Molino helped off the field by the training staff. Molino was seen on crutches later but after the match he didn’t have them in the locker room and didn’t appear to have a brace on his leg. It remains to be seen what the right wing’s injury status will be for Friday’s match against the New England Revolution.
"It's very early, we'll have a better idea tomorrow," Heath said about Molino's condition. "He'll go with the doctors tomorrow, as per usual, precautionary x-rays, etcetera. We'll see how he is. We'll have a far better idea when it's settled down overnight and he gets to see the medical people."
Cristian Higuita also took a tumble and appeared to injure his shoulder, but he returned and played through it. Kaká also appeared to be favoring a leg a bit when he was subbed off early. Injuries are, unfortunately, part of soccer, so you hate to see anyone take a knock in a friendly, especially since the Lions are already without Tally Hall, Martin Paterson, Tony Cascio and Lewis Neal. Heath said after the match they are all getting closer to returning but didn’t give a time frame.
Heath talked about how injuries are unfortunate in friendlies but they are part of the game of soccer.
"It's an occupational hazard, I suppose," he said. "Hopefully (Molino's injury) won't be too bad. But, if it is, it's something you don't want to happen, but there's not an awful lot you can do. Even though it's a friendly game, the players are really committing. It was a friendly in name but if you saw some of the tackles going in, it was very competitive."
Goals are Fun!
It was an exciting night for the announced crowd of 20,501. There were almost certainly not that many bodies in the stands, as the club probably counted the season ticket holders, who were eligible to attend. Not all showed up, but the crowd was pretty decent when it filled in a bit later than usual.
It was slightly larger than the biggest USL crowd I can remember, although I was not at the 20,000+ USL Final match. It was certainly bigger than many of the other higher USL attendances I can recall.
The fans were able to celebrate three goals, a penalty save and a victory. Those have been a long time coming for the home crowd in 2015 and it was nice to see the supporters rewarded.