KISSIMMEE — Orlando City B (2-0-0, 6 points) continued its hot start to the 2023 MLS NEXT Pro season by defeating Huntsville City FC (0-1-1, 2 points) 2-1 in the club’s home opener at Osceola County Stadium. Alex Freeman scored his first professional goals with a third-minute strike and a second just before halftime. Kemy Amiche pulled one back in the 62nd minute, but the Young Lions held on for the win.
OCB Head Coach Martin Perelman made three changes from the team that beat Philadelphia Union II last weekend. Freeman, Cristian Medina, and Jack Lynn entered the starting lineup in place of Zakaria Taifi, Alejandro Granados, and Moises Tablante. The Young Lions consisted of Javier Otero in goal behind a back line of Franco Perez, Nabi Kibunguchy, Abdi Salim, and Freeman. Juninho, Medina, Imanol Almaguer, Cristofer Acuna, and Jhon Solis were in the midfield with Lynn up top.
A week after scoring in the fourth minute in Philadelphia, the Young Lions got off to another fast start against Hunstville. In the third minute, Solis found Freeman to his right at the top of the box. The right back’s first shot was blocked by Joshua Drack, but it went right back to him. Carrying the ball towards the center of the field, he shot again. This time, it went past Huntsville goalkeeper Elliot Panicco and into the corner for his first professional goal, giving OCB another early 1-0 lead.
“First I saw my teammate, who made a through ball. I was trying to give it back to him and it bounced back to me,” Freeman said about his goal. “I saw the middle open, so I just cut in and shot on my left foot, which I rarely do for the right wing back, and it just went to the bottom corner.”
“We plan to be aggressive in the first sequences of the game, especially in the first minutes,” Perelman said about scoring inside the first five minutes in each of the team’s first two games. “We did it. We surprised them. I believe that we started with a higher level of activation than them to reach the goal in that moment. It’s something we train (for). It’s not something that we just found. We train for that, we train to score in the first minute of the game and we were able to do it.”
Following their opening goal last week in Philadelphia, the Young Lions stayed on the attack. Tonight, they conceded the majority of possession to Huntsville after taking the early lead.
“I feel like in the first game, they didn’t press as much maybe,” Freeman said about being put on the back foot. “In this game, we thought they weren’t going to press as much, but they pressed us high and it caused us to make quick decisions. Maybe we were nervous a little and it caused us to go long.”
The first shots by the visitors came in the seventh minute by Amiche and Nicky Law, but both were blocked. The first shot to get behind the back line was off the foot of Danny Griffin. However, Otero got down to make a good save and Salim cleared it out of play for a corner kick.
In the 11th minute, a set piece from the left of goal by former Lion Joey DeZart found the head of Sean Suber in the box. The defender was open, but the ball was too high for Suber to get over it and he sent his header well over the goal.
A good long ball by Griffin in the 16th minute found Jonathan Bolanos on the left side. The midfielder got a shot off, but Otero did well again to get down and make the stop.
The story of the first 20 minutes after the opening goal was OCB being unable to get the ball out of its own half. The defense was able to clear crosses from Bolanos out for corners, but any shots by Huntsville were only sent a short distance, allowing the opposition to recirculate and create another chance.
OCB almost had its second chance of the game in the 23rd minute when Almaguer won the ball off Huntsville on their side of the field. Quick passing through Lynn found Freeman, but the young defender lost the ball right back to the opposition, ending the second decent attack of the game.
In the 25th minute, Medina received the ball on the right and attempted a cross from the top right corner of the box. It was too far in front of Acuna on the far side, but nearly snuck inside the far post. Panicco ran over to it, but the ball went just wide.
Huntsville had a good chance in the 26th minute when Drack’s good long ball for Law was volleyed back across the front of the six-yard box. Fortunately, nobody in white was there and OCB was able to clear another dangerous situation.
After being outplayed for 40 minutes, the Young Lions doubled their lead and it was Freeman again. A great ball forward by Medina sent Freeman behind the Huntsville defense. He had Lynn making a run to his left and Panicco coming out, but decided to take it himself. Freeman put the ball just past the Huntsville goalkeeper and in for his second goal of the game.
“In practice, we always talk about me making a run into space because we talked about in practice that they had a high line. And it was just open,” Freeman said about his second goal. “I saw it, I checked in, I checked out, and then I had the space in behind and in my mind I’ll stick in first touch, make the goalie come on a little and then place in the bottom corner. That’s exactly what I did.”
“We were working with him the whole year last year,” Perelman said about Freeman’s brace. “We were looking for him to score and he finally found the goals.”
Huntsville had the final chance of the half in stoppage time when Bolanos tried his luck from outside the box. The low shot was right at Otero, who had no trouble with it, allowing OCB to get to halftime with a 2-0 lead.
Despite its two-goal deficit, Huntsville dominated the first half. The visitors had more possession (64%-36%), shots (11-3), shots on target (4-2), corners (4-0), crosses (13-2), and passing accuracy (82.6%-73.3%).
OCB made two changes at halftime as Favian Loyola and Thomas Williams came on for Salim and Acuna. Williams only lasted 10 minutes on the field, as he was replaced by Tahir Reid-Brown in the 55th minute.
Five minutes into the second half, Huntsville nearly got a goal back. A Perez foul on Bolanos near the top right corner of the box, gave the visitors a free kick. The set piece by Amiche found the head of Laurence Wyke at the top of the six-yard box. The header was off the crossbar and cleared out of play by Medina for a Huntsville corner.
The visitors had another good chance in the 57th minute with a strong cross across the six-yard box. However, Otero did well to dive off his line and catch it before it could reach the back post.
Huntsville finally got a goal back in the 62nd minute when a good diagonal ball for Law was quickly sent across the box. Amiche was making a back-post run and redirected a beautiful volley into the back of the net, cutting the OCB lead in half.
The Young Lions looked to have a good chance a minute later when Loyola made a long run down the middle of the field with teammates on either side of him. Rather than playing someone through, the Homegrown product decided to take it himself, shooting from the top of the box. But he didn’t hit it well at all, sending it well wide of the target.
On the other end, Bolanos found Oliver Wright on the left side. The midfielder was looking for the far post and his shot didn’t miss by much as it skipped just wide.
OCB had a good chance in the 70th minute when second-half substitute Taifi got behind the back line. His shot forced Panicco into a good save, but it popped right out in front of goal. The second attempt was sent well wide, ending the threat.
Perez went down in the 75th minute and required attention from the OCB medical staff. Per MLS NEXT Pro rules, he had to leave the field for three minutes. Huntsville City Head Coach Jack Collison urged his team to push forward while up a man, and they nearly converted in the 78th minute.
Bolanos attempted to cross the ball, but it was cleared. However, it wasn’t sent far enough, and Law ended up with it. He found enough room for a shot and took a chance on goal, but it was blocked. That was the only chance the visitors were able to create before Perez was able to rejoin the action.
Back to full strength, OCB created an opportunity in the 83rd minute when Juninho found Almaguer near the top of the box. The midfielder attempted a long-distance shot but sent it high and to the right of the target.
Three minutes into second-half stoppage time, Solis won the ball from Wyke, but the Huntsville attacker went down. While Solis tried to push the other way, referee Alyssa Nichols called a foul on Solis. OCB and its fans vocally disapproved of the call, but Huntsville had a free kick. The ensuing set piece found a head in the box, but was sent over the crossbar, allowing the Young Lions to clear.
Huntsville had one last chance in the dying seconds of the game. Wyke challenged Otero for the ball, resulting in the OCB goalkeeper going down. A foul was called on Wyke, allowing OCB to clear. That was the final action of the game as the Young Lions held on for a 2-1 win.
Huntsville dominated most aspects of the game, ending with more possession (62.2%-37.8%), shots (18-7), shots on goal (5-4), corners (5-1), crosses (25-4), duels won (55-50), and passing accuracy (82.7%-75.9%).
“As with the first half, we always want to play with the ball. This is our plan A,” Perelman said about holding onto the one-goal lead. “But if the game asks us to defend, we can do that. We’re prepared for that. And the team defended really properly in the first half and in the second half. If you think about the situations, especially in the first half, they didn’t have anyone. They had the ball, but we had control of the game. I like our team because it’s a pragmatic team, it’s a mature team, and this is just the beginning.”
The back-to-back wins to start the season represents the best start in OCB history, topping the team’s four-point start to the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro season.
The Young Lions will be back in action next Sunday when they welcome inter Miami II to Osceola County Stadium.