State Cup Round One: Choked Out!

At about 11pm Friday night, Bryson and I arrived in Naples for the first round of State Cup.  Orlando City faced the Wellington Wave at 8:30 the next morning and Tampa Bay United at 2:30.  The final group game against Pinecrest was scheduled for 8:00 on Sunday morning.  None of the four teams were incompetent, and it could be rightly call “The Group of Potential Discomfort”.

The formula is simple.  Win the group and advance directly to the Sweet Sixteen.  Take second and go to the challenger round in two weeks for a chance to reach the Sweet Sixteen.  Third and fourth are eliminated.

Since it’s assembly in August, the team has won an overwhelming majority of their games with a stout defense and possession-based style of play.  Despite the lack of a genuine goal scorer, they have produced some entertaining soccer, but to be fair, the competition has been somewhat lacking, as the team suffered by not qualifying for the Disney Showcase and getting washed out of the Jefferson Cup due to bad weather.  In recent weeks, there has been a run of poor results due largely to heretofore uncharacteristic defensive errors.

In game one, Orlando City started well dominating the possession and rarely appearing off balance defensively.   At the 15 minute mark they took the lead when Albert Garcia put away an eye-through-the-needle cross from Darius Brown.  Just as quickly, Orlando City lost hold of the game as it drifted away from tight controlled passing to a dangerous blend of ball-holding kickball.  They reached the half, and things proceeded along this perilous, purposeless path until Bryson drew a late free kick that was converted by Austin Coyle giving the Whites a 2-0 win.

Game two against Tampa Bay United figured to be a tight battle for control of the group.  Orlando City beat them 1-0 in August, and the teams drew in Tampa in September.   The first half was true to form as both teams traded blows through a scoreless half.  Early in the second, Orlando City was caught holding the ball, and conceded a go ahead goal.  Matters deteriorated rapidly after that as a sense of misguided desperation enveloped the team.  Any semblance of a passing game disappeared under a hail of inaccurate long balls, and classless time-wasting from the leaders.  Orlando City fell 0-1 and lost the Group of Realized Discomfort.

Heavy rains and wind swept through Naples late Saturday afternoon necessitating a change in schedule.  The decisive group game against Pinecrest was pushed back to 11:30.  Orlando City needed only a draw to advance on goal difference.  Pinecrest struck first on a well struck volley from a corner kick.  Orlando City was optimistic,  but sloppy up to that point, and critically left the goal scorer unmarked.   Again, Orlando City showed little composure while chasing the game, and failed to pose a serious threat for an equalizer before surrendering a second goal.  There was a futile flurry in front of net near the end, but no return. 

The team featured some talented individual players, but lacked two critical components fundamental to success.   A lack of seasoning against high calibre competition, and the absence of discipline to play to the team’s strengths in all circumstances. Successful teams have an identity, and that identity organically adapts to the circumstances the team finds itself in.  For lack of these qualities,  Orlando City was eliminated.

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