Life on the bench isn’t easy. Not only do you need to stay mentally engaged in the match, but you have to continually stay warm on the sidelines. When your number is called, you have a quick moment to receive instruction from your coach before hitting the pitch. Then, it’s up to you to make an impact.
This season, Orlando City has had a player from the bench provide a goal or an assist in each of this season’s eight matches.
Head Coach James O’Connor has praised his players for being attentive while on the bench and analyzing the match from a different perspective, but it’s the players' attitudes that stick out to him the most.
“I think the most pleasing aspect for me as a coach is that we’ve got players that will accept the decision and then will be intentional about trying to go and impact the game.”
Saturday’s 1-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps was the most recent example.
Sacha Kljestan, coming off the bench for the first time this season, immediately made an impact. He found space in what was a crowded Whitecaps box for most of the day and delivered the assist on Nani’s game-winning goal.
“Sacha showed tremendous maturity in the way he handled it and the way he came on,” said James O’Connor. “We wanted to have him coming in from the bench because we felt if he could perhaps impact the game, whether that was deep in our half or in their half, he’s got a good football brain and he’s someone again that we’re really pleased that we have somebody like that on the football club.”
While Kljestan made a clear impact after entering the match, the veteran leader was helping his teammates well before it.
“I think watching from the bench, I think that we were playing a little too slow with the ball throughout the course of the game…The things I tried to mention to the guys at halftime were continuing to work the ball on the wing, try to create 2v1’s or 3v2’s and then try to get crosses in the box, but we needed more than Dom in the box. He was very isolated today and pretty much 1 against 3 center backs almost all game.”
When Kljestan took the pitch, the puzzle pieces fell into place.
"We needed a little more action in the box and fortunately, the goal came that way,” said Kljestan. “I think it was a cutback cross from Ruan and I think we had 3 guys in the box and so it created a bit of confusion in front of their back line and fortunately, it ended up in the back of the net.”
To put this eight-match run of bench contributors into perspective, Orlando City only had seven matches with a bench contributor in 2018. Their longest streak was only two matches.
Whether it’s a fluke or a trend, it’s a positive sign of the team mentality James O’Connor and staff are looking to build.