OK, let's do that again. Deeper, though, this time. Let that breath sit there...then let it out...*siiiiiiiiiiiiigh*.
Yeah, I know it doesn't make it better, but every little bit helps.
Anyway. That was fun, no? I know, I know, it's hard to say that right now, but it was fun. It's amazing that only two goals were scored in the entire game; but that's soccer.
The great Sepp Herberger was fond of saying, Der Ball ist rund, damit das Spiel die Richtung ändern kann. ("The ball is round, so the game can change direction."). Did it ever.
This game was hyped to the heavens — and it delivered. Hosting were the Lions of Orlando City, the Citrus Bowl packed to the gunwales, a cauldron viscerally thrumming with rhythm and voices made achingly hoarse with the ululations of expected triumph. It was a setting worthy of the occasion; 62,510 people made this the ninth-largest crowd to ever watch an MLS game.
New York City's players were the visitors of note this evening, made to wait nervously and not in the entrance tunnel for Orlando's starting eleven. The first-ever starting eleven from the five boroughs were:
GK: Josh Saunders
D (L-to-R): Jeb Brovsky, Chris Wingert, Jason Hernandez, Josh Williams
M (L-to-R): Ned Grabavoy, Mix, Andrew Jacobson, Mehdi Ballouchy
F: Adam Nemec, David Villa
Subs: Akira Fitzgerald, Kwame Watson-Siriboe, Javier Calle, Sebastian Velasquez, Kwadwo Poku, Patrick Mullins, Khiry Shelton.
Right off the bat, you note the absences. Shay Facey, here on loan from Manchester City until June, who's done yeoman work on defense. Tony Taylor, who was so effective in the preseason. Andres Mendoza, another huge body in the back line. Wingert would normally be the left back, but tonight he played center back.
[SIDEBAR: Man, we have got to come up with a nickname for New York City FC. NYCFC just sounds like an off-Disney boy band. New York City is good enough, but lacks distinguishablity from, well, the city. I tried using "Sky Blues", but I'm not convinced of it. "City"? Nah, too derivative. "Gotham Blues"? Maybe? I don't know. Let's do a poll at the end, and I'll just use all of them, and see what sticks for me.]
The game finally kicked off after the inaugural First Kick ceremonies, including a long but serviceable anthem performance. Right from the beginning, the Gotham Blues got pinned back, Orlando passing the ball with fluidity, and constantly threatening to breach the City walls. Time after time, Orlando simply shredded through the NYC defense, like this:
For their part, the Sky Blues were playing a high line, in order to frustrate Orlando's potent offense, but that meant that were mostly playing defense throughout the first half. And that defense was doing work. Hernandez and Wingert were tireless, their communication absolutely instrumental in catching Orlando's Carlos Rivas continually offside.
Here, let's illustrate it. The assumption was that Gotham lined up in a 4-4-2 diamond — Kreis' preferred starting formation — whilst Orlando lined up in a 4-2-3-1. But here's how New York actually played through most of the first half:
In other words, it was more like Jacobson and Mix working in tandem, serving as bulwarks for New York City's backline, with Ballouchy and Grabavoy ostensibly playing on the wings, and ideally providing service to Villa and Nemec. The problem for Gotham: no speed on the wings. Like, at all. More worryingly, whilst Grabavoy was at least trying to influence the run of play, Ballouchy was utterly lost in the tall weeds. In fact, here's his passing chart from the first half:
(key: green squares = successful passes; red squares = unsuccessful passes)
See the problem? His passes are going sideways, at best. That meant that Villa and Nemec were stuck dropping back to gather the ball, or left waiting for balls cleared by the defense. It's little wonder, then, that Orlando dominated the run of play, forcing Saunders and the defense to put out fire after fire. The half-time stats showed it: eight shots for the Lions, three on target. Three corners. The Opta stats craft an even more heroic narrative:
(key: green pentagon = tackle; yellow triangle = block; blue triangle = interception; purple triangle = clearances; yellow triangles = recoveries)
Look at how much activity surrounds the Gotham box. For comparison, here's Orlando's defensive chart for the first half.
See the difference?
Maybe Orlando wasn't unlucky to not lead 3-0 or 4-0 at the break, as I tweeted at the half, but shots and saves aren't the most tell-tale signs of domination. Nobody tells stories about the key tackles and interceptions that prevent shots and saves in the first place. Take that nasty injury Saunders suffered early in the first half, which saw him rise dazedly after minutes of medical attention.
If Saunders doesn't make that tackle on Seb Hines, Orlando's leading 1-0 minutes into the game. It's not a save, it's not a shot, but it's every bit as crucial as those.
New York City was lucky indeed to go into the locker room all square with Orlando at the break, and adjustments were needed. They came, presently.
In the 62nd minute, Mehdi Ballouchy made way for Gotham City's first draft pick, Khiry Shelton. Two weeks ago, Shelton jolted the Sky Blues into life, eventually scoring the tying goal nine minutes after entering the game. It was a case of history repeating. Bare minutes later — in the 68th minute — Shelton nearly gave New York City the lead, with a shot that literally kissed Orlando's goalface. How close? This close:
That was just the start of what soon became an ever-present siege. Far from running rampant, Orlando's Lions were cornered, desperately looking for relief. Nemec found himself with another chance, which he skied. With 15 minutes to go, Shelton made another buccaneering run against Orlando's goal, saved from scoring only by Brek Shea, who nevertheles forced a corner.
Minutes later, there it was.
MIX!!!!!!!! #NYCFC— Phlocka (@Phlocka) March 8, 2015
YES MIXXXXX!!!! #NYCFC— Ryan Foster (@R_Fostrrr) March 8, 2015
GOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!!!! VILLA to MIX!!! #NYCFC— Steve DiNardo (@stevedinardo55) March 8, 2015
Mikkel Morgenstar Pålssønn Diskerud scored Gotham's first-ever regular season goal. Of course it was. If you were going to script it — and remember, we're playing next door to Disney World here, people — it had to be either Mix, or David Villa. Mix, whose arrival in January and winning personality went some considerable way to healing the wounds left by the club's epic botching of Frank Lampard's signing, was the perfect guy to do it, and he scored it in splendid fashion. Here, have another look.
See Villa receive the short corner. Cut, thrust, Iñigo Montoya-style. The dish. Mix, in position, calm, receives.
Bedlam, in one corner of the bowl. Silence, everywhere else.
Including on the field. That goal was a back-breaker. Suddenly, the fight was out of the Lions, at sixes and sevens. That physical weariness soon reflected itself mentally, as Aurelién Collin, of whom so much will be demanded by Orlando, lost his ever-lovin' mind.
In the 83rd minute, Collin delivered a horrific, ankle-breaker of a tackle against David Villa. Villa, who lost an entire season as a result of a similar tackle, laid prostrate on the ground, in agony. A well and deserved red card, according to everyone concerned. Everyone, that is, except Orlando.
Everyone, that is, except Orlando.
Like that, the Lions seemed resigned to their fate, the mood inside the Citrus Bowl funereal. Victory seemed within Gotham's grasp.
Seemed is the key word here. At the death, in the 91st minute, Orlando player Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite cruelly snatched victory away from New York City.
Kaká gonna Kaká. That's why Ricky gets paid, and paid very well, indeed — because Ricky delivers. There was nothing Saunders could've done about the goal, although it's worth wondering just what in blazes Brovsky was doing there. Watch the play; you see Brovsky move away from the ball as it comes towards him. Understandable, but he's a defender; all he ends up doing is deflecting the ball with his stomach.
A few more desultory kicks later, the whistle sounded, the game ended. New York City 1, Orlando City 1. Accounts still square, to be continued on a Gotham July, by which point New York City will have Lampard — and another star, beyond — to complement the David Villa Group, featuring Mix.
Shots: ORL 15, NYC 8
Shots on target: ORL 4, NYC 1
Shots off target: ORL 6, NYC 5
Blocked shots: ORL 5, NYC 2
Corners: ORL 6, NYC 1
Crosses: ORL 24, NYC 4
Offsides: ORL 6, NYC 1
Fouls: NYC 17, ORL 14
YC: NYC 3 (Ballouchy, Hernandez, Brovsky); ORL 3 (Molino, Shea, Higuita)
RC: ORL 1 (Collin)
Total passes: ORL 444, NYC 436
Passing accuracy: ORL 83%, NYC 82%
Possession: ORL 51.7%, NYC 48.3%
Duels won: ORL 46, NYC 38
Tackles won: ORL 11, NYC 8
Saves: NYC 2, ORL 0
Clearances: NYC 28, ORL 14
NYC 62': Ballouchy off, SHELTON ON
ORL 80': Neal off, RÓCHEZ ON
NYC 88': Mix off, VELASQUEZ ON
NYC 89': Nemec off, CALLE ON
ORL 90'+3: Rivas off, St LEDGER ON