After only six days of preseason training, Orlando City SC kicked off its first-ever Major League Soccer (MLS) preseason match against DC United at IMG Academy on Friday night.
The Lions fell behind early in the first half when Chris Pontius nodded home a strong header for the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, but Orlando's young players provided a valiant performance in the second half to level the final score at 1-1.
Carlos Rivas - who made his first appearance as a Lion - scored the lone goal for Orlando City by slotting home a curving free-kick from the edge of the box in the 66th minute. After the match, Heath was complimentary of the Colombian's performance at the number 10 slot, along with many of the other younger players on the squad.
"I thought Rivas showed flashes of what he's about with his explosive power and pace," stated Heath. "I also thought Higuita did really well when he came on and so did the two young center backs, Donovan and Redding."
Although the final score was pleasing for the gaffer and his new group of players, the match against D.C. meant more than just a result, as it provided a valuable opportunity to measure the team's progress against a strong MLS side.
"We went from having five days of training to playing a team that won the East last year," Heath continued. "But what that does is, we now have an idea of what we're going up against, in terms of size and pace. Some of our young guys have been playing college soccer, and now suddenly, they're playing against grown men. At times it showed, but overall I thought there was some good stuff out there tonight."
With the squad coming out injury-free after the first preseason fixture, Heath will now turn his focus back to the training ground as the new squad continues to become familiar with one another prior to the start of the season.
"We brought in over 20 players, and most of them aren't used to playing with each other," said Heath. "But it looks like everyone has come through unscathed, so we'll get back to the training ground next week and continue working on one or two things before the season starts."
Note: Kaka was not included in the squad for Friday's game. The Brazilian international was in his native country this week, finalizing his visa. Brek Shea is currently with the U.S. Men's National Team for training camp and friendlies, and Bryan Rochez is expected to return to Orlando next week - after spending the past several weeks with the U-20 Honduras National Team.