By Luis Vazquez
It was an almost flawless performance for the New York City Football Club except in one area, killer instinct. That was the area that was displayed most prominently on the final scoreboard that read Orlando City 1-0 over NYCFC. It was not for lack of trying though as the Blues went into enemy territory to open the new Orlando City Stadium witnessed by 25,527 Lion fans and their former coach Jason Kreis
But for the most part they rose to the occasion.
The introduction of five new players into the starting lineup were instrumental in making the offense more fluid than it ever looked previously. Max Moralez, Alexander Ring, Alexander Callens, Sean Okoli and Rodney Wallace symbolized the upgrades NYCFC made in the off-season to move to the next level.
They each improved the trouble areas of a season ago. These were the early returns of placing Jack Harrison and Wallace to support David Villa with Moralez behind them along with Andrea Pirlo and Ring, who was equally effective in midfield as NYC dominated the possession game.
“The chemistry was better than I thought-if you look at the way we played through midfield, the combination play and the chances we made, it was very good, “NYCFC Head Coach Patrick Vieira said.
NYC started well until lady luck ran away from them and favored Canadian Cyle Larin, who headed in the only goal of the match eleven minutes in moments after Orlando City lost Brazilian Kaka to a hamstring pull. “A lot of adrenaline went through my body when I stepped on the field for the first time, and when I saw the fans,” Larin said, “Obviously I wanted to score.”
NYCFC goaltender Sean Johnson, who impressed mightily this evening, was aware of the danger that was Larin yet could not prevent the inevitable. “He’s a strong kid. He finishes well,” Johnson said, “We limited his chances. He’s very strong in the air.” But Vieira was pleased overall with Johnson in the nets. “Sean was fantastic -he was really commanding at the back and showed his personality. I was pleased with his performance.”
The decision to put Alexander Callens in the interior of the back four with Maxine Chanot paid dividends from the start as they formed a wall that allowed only seven shots. R.J Allen ran the flanks well with Matarrita, who had an excellent night and showed great chemistry with his Costa Rican co-hort Wallace as he found him often coming out the back.
He would have been considered man of the match but for that one error. “We tried everything possible,” Matarrita said, “We changed about half the squad. It’s something that is going to take time.”
Yet that was the lone blemish NYCFC Vieira assessed most prominently. “We need to improve our finishing-to be more ruthless when we have the chance,” Vieira said, “To play away and create as many chances as we did was really positive. We just need to finish them.”
The moment Vieira was probably had in mind specifically was the 53rd minute opportunity Jack Harrison had when Wallace’ cross landed near him unmarked and ten yards from an equalizer. But Josa Aja and Lion goaltender Joe Bendik together blocked his shot enough to deflect it inches away from the post. But there were other chances that went lacking.
That is what a hot goaltender does for a team. He covers a multitude of sins and 27-year old Joe Bendik of Orlando City had the kind of night that netminders dream off. I
n addition to the Harrison save, Bendik stuffed Alexander Ring in the 32nd minute in the penalty area from a brilliant through ball pass from David Villa. When NYC brought in Sean Okoli off the bench, Bendik grasped Okoli’s long-range laser in the 86th minute. Bendik would stop Okoli again a short while later. His heroics contributed to a fighting spirit that built momentum on every NYC threat that they rode out of danger.
This served as the source of frustration for NYCFC. To a man they know they outplayed the road team in a new place with a lot of hype involved. They improved the flow of their attack and defensively and in goal got what they wanted.
Many of the new players like Moralez and Ring and the returning Matarrita shined throughout the evening. The lesson the Blues took out of this was that it is not how you start, but how you finish.
NYCFC will be looking to correct this against D.C. United in their home opener this Sunday March 12th at Yankee Stadium.