I was skeptical, but as I parked and made my way to the Citrus Bowl that sense was replaced by civic pride. Orlando, my city, had filled the bowl for Orlando City’s first MLS game. No matter what would unfold in the next two hours, this moment existed in the heart of the city, and I was glad to be a part of it.
Moments pass though, and the purpose of all this is sustainability, and central to that is the product on the field. Orlando City fielded a prototypical MLS team based on an aging international star in Kaka, a recognizable USMNT player in Brek Shea and a cadre of cheap labor spare parts to fill out the roster. New York FC, the league’s other expansion team, was no different with David Villa, Mix Diskerud and the aforementioned cadre of cheap labor spare parts.
The crowd was inspired throughout, but the play was pedestrian at best. Both teams were capable of stringing together benign passes along the back line, but very little incisive play occurred in the attacking half. Kaka waited an eternity to play his first through ball, and the play was offside. A few minutes later, he rocketed the ball 25 yards ahead of himself while attempting to dribble into space. Fouls flowed in both directions in a very disjointed opening 15 minutes of play.
Kaka settled into the game playing a few combinations in the attacking half, and drew a save from the keeper with a first time strike that culminated the best passage of play all day. For his part, Shea was an aggressive runner on the left wing, but lacked sharpness on his crosses.
For New York FC, Villa was lost for the most part without teammates capable of stringing together passes in the attacking third that would capitalize on his technical ability and timing. Diskerud was probably the man of the match playing with consistent composure, efficient passing and scoring the game’s first goal on a well-placed curling shot from the top of the box.
It was hard to identify any other players on the field as having an instrumental role on the game which suggests little more than they played up to their pay grade, and highlighted the problem of the imbalanced roster construction of MLS as a whole.
The game ended in a 1-1 draw as Kaka ‘ s extra time free kick took a fortuitous deflection into the back of the net.
Unmistakable was the sense of joy with the goal. This is critical as Orlando City must transform this civic event into a sustainable interest in the team, and more specifically, interest in the live attendance of these games.