For a young team, every game offers a learning experience.
Their first two games, the bounces went their way. Kaká’s free kick glances off the wall, and Tyler Deric struggles with a charging Pedro Ribeiro.
As the Lions would soon learn, sometimes the bounces go the other way.
The classroom was Orlando’s Citrus Bowl. The teachers: DC United.
Their first matchup of the season came on April 3rd. City did everything right, dominating long stretches of possession and peppering United with 17 shots, charging back up the pitch with each attempt in the hopes that their next effort would be the breakthrough.
That break never came, and instead it was DC that found the back of the net with a stunning free kick in stoppage time — securing all three points.
Some teams, especially young expansion clubs, might have put their head down after a result like this, but not Orlando City. They rebounded with a 2-0 victory the next week in Portland, notoriously one of the most difficult places to play in MLS.
After coming from behind at home to salvage results two weeks in a row, the Lions are looking to take back that point – and two more – from the only team averaging two goals per game in the East. But DC are in fine form and looking to continue their seven-game unbeaten streak.
Beyond the results on the pitch, other things are beginning to look up for City as they prepare for their rematch against DC United. The team is getting healthy, as evidenced by Martin Paterson’s increased participation in training and Tally Hall nearing his grand return. Pedro Ribeiro, who pulled his hamstring in the 19th minute against DC, is also recuperating nicely.
Despite this injury-plagued early start to the season, Heath has maintained that every time a player goes down, another player is gifted an opportunity to step up. Ribeiro’s injury in the club’s first matchup with DC United did just that for Cyle Larin, the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s MLS SuperDraft. Larin scored in Portland the next week, and after goals in consecutive games, the 20-year-old Canadian International seems to be hitting his stride.
“I’m progressing more and I just think my level of play has picked up and I’m used to the speed of the game, and now I have my confidence up scoring goals and I think I’m a lot fitter than when I came in,” said Larin.
When asked about the pressure of being the No. 1 pick, Larin coolly replied, “Being number one is just motivation to stay up there and show everyone that I can play in this league and do well in this league and score goals.”
It seems Larin isn’t the only one motivated to prove he can play in MLS. Despite what Heath called a “satisfactory” beginning to their inaugural season, Orlando City continues to feed off the motivation of proving to everyone that they too can play in this league.
As Darwin Cerén put it, “I think we have to be conscious that the team has a good dynamic, good rhythm, and we can stand in whichever stadium – so we have to keep showing it.”
They showed it in their first game against the Black-and-Red. Now it’s about getting the result.