JACKSONVILLE — It’s only preseason.
Orlando City’s first match-up against in-state foes the Jacksonville Armada didn’t go quite as planned, as the Lions blew a halftime lead and fell to the NASL club, 2-1 at Community First Park.
The Lions struck first in the 32nd minute on a superb free-kick goal from Brazilian superstar Kaká, but a pair of second-half goals from the Armada were enough to take down the Lions in their second preseason game of 2016, dropping Orlando City to 1-1-0.
Despite the result, Head Coach Adrian Heath said he was pleased overall.
“I thought it was a really good game for us,” Heath said. “Really pleased with the first half performance, I thought there was a lot of positives. Considering we’re only two weeks in, I was really pleased with some of the stuff.”
Orlando City controlled most of the game through the first half, consistently finding ways to work up the field towards goal. In the fifth minute, Darwin Ceren one-timed a loose ball just on top of the arch and ripped a shot just high and wide of Jacksonville goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo’s goal. Hardly a minute later, Orlando City B midfielder Tony Rocha was taken down inside the penalty area, but couldn’t get the call he was looking for.
A somewhat scary moment for the Lions came in the 11th minute, when Rocha sent a perfect low through ball to Cyle Larin, who collided with Gallardo. The former Orlando City keeper denied the Canadian’s attempt on goal and Larin stayed down, and was slow to get up before staying in the game.
Orlando City’s best moment of the night came in the 32nd minute, when the captain, Kaká, put the Lions on the board first. A foul by Jacksonville’s Beto Navarro gave the Lions a free kick in a dangerous area just outside of the box. With Kaká and Brek Shea both standing over the ball, it was the Brazilian that curled it over the wall for his first goal of the preseason. The out-stretched Gallardo never stood a chance of stopping it.
Kaká nearly doubled the Lions’ lead just before the half, settling a ball at his feet in the middle of the penalty area before firing a shot that was quickly blocked by a defender.
After a promising first half by Orlando City’s near-opening day lineup, the second half was all Jacksonville. Orlando City had made major lineup changes by then, putting more backups into the game, and it seemed to affect the match.
Former USL Lion Mechack Jérôme created almost a carbon copy of Kaká’s free kick goal, leveling the score in the 48th with a bender of his own, easily sliding it by Earl Edwards Jr. Edwards came on to start the second half after Joe Bendik posted a clean sheet in the first 45 minutes.
The game-winner was scored almost 10 minutes later by forward Alhassane Keita, whose shot deflected off the leg of David Mateos, leaving Edwards with little chance of stopping it. Not eight minutes earlier, Keita had attempted a shot that sailed just wide.
More wholesale changes came for Orlando City in the 62nd minute, with Heath subbing out the remainder of his starting lineup. The new lineup struggled to ever get in a rhythm against a Jacksonville side that had gone with only a handful of changes throughout the match.
And for those of you keeping track: Orlando City is now 0-3 in games played on baseball fields in the last year, losing to both New York City FC and Louisville City last season.
Shea said he was happy to get out there and shake off the rust in a competitive match.
“Excited to get out there,” said the starter at left back. “I think everybody was. It’s a fun game to get out there. I thought we did really well, and I think we’re 10 times ahead of where we were last year at this time.”
The Lions will head back to the training pitch this week before a midweek friendly against the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday morning at ChampionsGate. That match will be closed to the public.