Like a mad scientist tirelessly working in his lab, Adrian Heath seems to have found the Lions’ chemistry.
As their first MLS season nears its halfway point, the group of 30 relative strangers is getting closer to becoming a single unit – a family – on and off the pitch.
The proof of this transformation is most evident in the string of results that City has managed to put together, accumulating three wins and two draws in their last five matches. Their recent run of form has vaulted them to third place in the Eastern Conference.
After Sunday night’s 1-0 victory over D.C. United, the team repeatedly mentioned how they’re coming together on all parts of the pitch.
“The team’s growing. I felt more confident sitting on the bench that we would see it through tonight than I would’ve done five or six weeks ago, for sure,” commented Adrian Heath.
Even a player like Kaká, one of the most iconic players in world soccer, is riding a learning curve when it comes to adjusting to MLS. And his coaches are still learning what the former FIFA World Player of the Year can do, too.
“I think we’re still getting to know more about (Kaká), what he’s capable of and suddenly the chemistry within the group is getting a lot, lot better. They’re getting to know each other.”
“It’s harder than people think to get everybody on the same page in such a short period of time, especially the way we want to play. For everybody to get to know their roles and responsibilities within our system doesn’t come overnight, but we are getting there,” said Heath on Sunday after the Lions began their first MLS win streak in Club history.
Orlando City is coming together on all parts of the pitch, from the back line to the defensive midfield to the attacking midfield. Early in the season, the team would play well but let results slip away because one reason or another. But as the season progresses, each piece is jelling into a single unit with eleven moving parts.
The hard work finally came to fruition in the 4-0 win against the L.A. Galaxy. After the game, Heath lauded the Higuita/Cerén partnership in the defensive midfield, saying, “the pair of them were outstanding.”
He also talked after that game about the increased chemistry between Kaká and Brek Shea. In the month that’s passed, the team dynamic in the midfield has only strengthened, even when Shea was away with the USMNT. Players like Lewis Neal, Eric Avila – even youngster Carlos Rivas – have stepped up their level of play and contributed.
The goals are starting to come for Orlando City, too. Early on, the Lions were struggling to find the back of the net. Beginning with the game against the Galaxy, the team has bagged 11 goals in five games.
As the positive results come in, so too does a healthy dose of confidence.
But perhaps the biggest measure of how far this team has come was how they managed to hold on to their 1-0 lead against a team that had beaten them twice before. In both previous games, the Lions felt they outplayed D.C., but they were unable to turn the performance into points.
“The group’s getting better and the one thing that validates that is wins,” said Heath. “They start to believe more in what you’re telling them when you win.”
“It shows the character and belief within the roster that we’re certainly going in the right direction,” said Lewis Neal after the 1-0 win over United. “We’re slowly getting in that right direction and I think tonight was a bit of a statement that we are a genuine playoff contending team and we firmly believe that.”