The season is very young for Orlando City, but we’ve reached the end of a first month that saw the Lions remain undefeated through three matches with a win and a pair of draws. The five-point return is good enough for a third place standing in the Eastern Conference as City welcomes Portland to the Citrus Bowl Sunday night.
As the calendar is set to turn to April, it's time for The Mane Land staff's picks for the Lions' best goal, save, and player from the month that was.
Goal of the Month: Adrian Winter versus Real Salt Lake
The Goal of the Month voting race came down to the Lions’ two tallies in their season-opening draw against RSL on March 6. The question was: would it be Cyle Larin’s kick-starter or Adrian Winter’s leveler that took the crown?
In the end, TML staff decided that Winter's equalizer that sent the Citrus Bowl into frenzy as if City had taken all three points was slightly more deserving than Larin's strike just moments before. This was largely due to the fact that it capped the remarkable sequence that had just seen OCSC steal a point in the matter of a minute and change.
What probably secured it for Winter was the entire sequence that led to the goal: From Servando Carrasco's beautiful long ball from the edge of his own box over the top to Larin, to the body control of the young No. 9 that allowed him to tee up the assist, all the way to the finish itself from Winter and the jubilant celebration that followed. We thought 2015's season opener featured an exciting finish and then Orlando City went and topped it in 2016's opener.
Save of the Month: Joe Bendik on Mix Diskerud vs. NYCFC
Not surprisingly, our selection for Save of the Month comes from Orlando's lone clean sheet of the season thus far, a 1-0 win at NYCFC. It was far from comfortable, with New York owning the majority of possession and creating a number of dangerous chances, but this massive save from Joe Bendik on the one-hour mark was his biggest of the night that kept the Lions' 1-0 lead intact.
After a nice bit of build-up from NYCFC, Mix Diskerud was played into the box nicely by David Villa after dishing to the Spaniard and proceeding to make a run forward. The link-up from the duo split the Orlando City defense down the middle, and Diskerud found himself with a 1-on-1 opportunity against Bendik. Mix tried to slip a shot past Orlando’s keeper into the bottom right corner from about 12 yards out, but Bendik’s reaction was excellent and he was able to get down and swat the ball away with his left hand.
The Lions got good contributions on the night from the likes of Cristian Higuita and Darwin Cerén in the defensive midfield, but there’s no doubt that Bendik had to make this save if Orlando was going to get out of New York with three points.
Player of the Month: Cyle Larin
This one was never really in doubt, as Larin has maintained a goal-per-game pace through three games this year, finding the net once in each of the Lions' matches. His aforementioned goal against RSL sparked the incredible come-from-behind draw, and he registered a Goal of the Week nomination with his snipe against Chicago and then again at Yankee Stadium, where his seventh-minute header proved to be the winner.
We weren't legitimately concerned about the fabled "sophomore slump" coming into Larin's second MLS season, but any and all concerns that some may have had in that regard have been dispelled emphatically through March. Obviously much of the season remains, but Larin has shown that he's keen on improving in Year 2, and so far he's done exactly that.
Also receiving votes: defender Tommy Redding, who has been impressive while slotting in at center back and could be on his way to nailing down a starting role for Adrian Heath.
The Lions had a pretty successful March and set themselves up nicely as the season really begins to gear up. Check back at the end of April for our next installment of The Mane Land monthly awards. Until then…Go City!