Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Lions beat Rowdies in first-leg of I-4 Derby

(Photo: Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice)
By Mike Gramajo 

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — There’s no stopping Orlando City, and you can add derbies to that list of accomplishments. 

Goals from Adama Mbengue, Dennis Chin and Brian Span lifted Orlando City SC to a 3-0 victory over rivals Tampa Bay Rowdies on Wednesday night during the first leg of the I-4 Derby at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in front of 4,027 fans. 

"I thought we were awful from minute 1 to minute 90,” Orlando head coach Adrian Heath told reporters. “As a group, I think it's probably the worst we played in a long time. Nobody wanted to do the dirty work, nobody wanted to roll the sleeves up. I can still play like that, I’m 53, I can still play running forward. 

“I don’t care about the result, I wanted to win. Anything that’s important to our supporters is important enough for me and it should be for our players, but I’m not watching that every week.” 

The Lions opened up the scoreboard in the 27th minute after Brian Span found Mbengue in the left flank, who then rifled in a shot toward the bottom right corner. OCSC doubled the lead right before halftime when Span’s shot deflected of Rowdies goalkeeper Ryan Thompson, finding Chin to bury the rebound. 

Span capped the victory late into stoppage-time after he was able to breakaway from the Rowdies back line, putting the ball behind second-half substitute goalkeeper Cody Mizell. 

Despite the two-goal lead in the first half, the Lions outshot the Rowdies 7-4. Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo was credited for three saves for the entire match, as the Lions finished outshooting the Rowdies 12-7 for the total. 

Heath decided to play most of his current starters in the first half, opting to play a less-experience side during the second half. 

OCSC are riding a four-game winning streak and look to remain atop the USL PRO standings on Sunday when they host the Oklahoma City Energy. 

Inside the I-4 Derby (NASL vs. USL PRO)

By Mike Gramajo

The I-4 Derby returns for its second installment, and promises to bring an even-more intense rivalry as the Tampa Bay Rowdies visit Orlando City SC in the first leg of the regional cup.

It's a showdown between the North American Soccer League (NASL) and USL PRO and despite one side not having a fresher start than the other, expect both sides giving it their all during these two games.

In the latest news regarding the derby, check out my piece 'Inside the I-4 Derby,' which has the latest updates regarding the match on Wednesday. Give it a read, and don't forget to leave your comments below.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Orlando City notes: Road trip recap; Ceren’s absence; unstoppable Molino; and more

Photo: Valencia Voice
By Mike Gramajo

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — After starting their 2014 USL PRO season on the road, which saw Orlando City SC leave with only one point, the Lions are riding high on confidence after their latest road stretch which saw them exit with a perfect six points. 

The last time OCSC went perfect on a road stretch? August of 2012, which was the last time Orlando exited a two-game road trip with six points after victories at Harrisburg City Islanders and Rochester Rhinos. 

“Six points on the road is never easy,” Orlando head coach Adrian Heath told the OSJ on Saturday. “I thought we had good play on the counter-attack in Dallas, and tonight it was just a case in playing the conditions. We have to play the opponent and sometimes you also have to play the conditions.” 

Heath, who is rarely or never keen the performance of the team, had high praise for his men despite the 25 MPH wind gusts that played a heavy factor during their 2-1 win at Oklahoma City. 

Here’s more on what Heath told the OSJ on their previous and upcoming matches: 

Darwin Ceren’s absence and return to Orlando City 
There was one notable player missing on Saturday and though the Lions cracked up a win, his alive energy that moves the midfield brought questions on whether the scoreline would of had more than two numbers. 

Orlando’s third Major League Soccer signee Darwin Ceren missed out on Saturday’s match at Oklahoma, and Heath told the OSJ that it was because of a family illness. 

“He’s had a family illness and he had to take care of that,” said Heath. “Everything is okay, and should be in practice on Monday morning and back in the lineup.” 

Unstoppable Molino getting paves the way in road games
It’s no secret that midfielder Kevin Molino is Heath’s favorite player. After all, he’s Orlando’s first-ever MLS signing, and his performance in the last two road games displayed why has potential to be the club’s first-ever captain once the Lions jump into MLS. 

Three goals in two games may seem like just a statistic, an emphatic one, but it was the timing in which they came played a serious factor on the result. The 2012 USL PRO Most Valuable Player made his presence known on Saturday at OKC, pulling the strings after feeding the ball forward Dennis Chin and wingers Brian Span and Adama Mbengue.

Molino also played a role into orchestrating the opening goal. Perhaps the match at FC Dallas last week gave him the momentum going into Saturday’s match, but his form, which is rapidly moving forward, is something that could transform into a threat league-wide. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Orlando City spoil OKC Energy home opener

Photo: Energy FC / Steven Christy
By Mike Gramajo

OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. — There’s no stopping Orlando City’s first-ever Major League Soccer signee. 

Kevin Molino’s third goal in two games sealed the deal after Dennis Chin’s 25th minute opener, as Orlando City SC defeated the Oklahoma City Energy FC 2-1, on Saturday night at Pribil Stadium. 

“I think it was just a case in playing the conditions,” OCSC head coach Adrian Heath told the OSJ. “I know next week when we play them it will be a difficult game. I can’t complain, I think we made a couple mistakes all evening, but were able to fight the conditions.” 

Dennis Chin put Orlando City on the scoreboard in the 26th minute after a header from midfielder Adama Mbengue deflected off OKC Energy goalkeeper Jon Kempin, leaving the Oviedo, Florida native in position to execute on the rebound. 

OCSC doubled the lead in the 57th minute when Energy defender Mark Howard played a ball back to Kempin, it wasn’t enough as the weak pass resulted in Molino applying pressure on Kempin. The Trinidad and Tobago international was able to beat the goalkeeper for the ball, as he slotted the ball into the net. 

“I can guarantee that we’ll compete better next time,” Energy FC head coach Jimmy Nielsen told reporters. “We have to at least try. Tonight was not tactical, it was mental.” 

With the game looking like a shutout victory for Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo, second-half substitute Steven Perry scored late into stoppage-time after he was able to breakthrough the defense, slotting the ball behind Gallardo.

The Lions entered Saturday’s match after defeating FC Dallas Reserves earlier in the week, 3-2. Defender Rob Valentino, who picked up an ankle injury during the match at Dallas, sat out against the Energy after being ruled out for two weeks. 

The Lions and Energy will face off again next week, when OKC visits Orlando at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex during USL PRO play. Orlando will have a mid-week battle when they also welcome the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the first leg of the I-4 Derby. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

FC Dallas loanee Cobi Span getting in rhythm

Photo: OCSC 
By Mike Gramajo

SANFORD, Fla. — One week. That’s all it took. 

One week in which Orlando City’s Cobi Span took to get into rhythm, and his focus is now on breaking into Adrian Heath’s starting XI. 

“That’s a goal,” Span told the OSJ during Saturday’s practice at the Seminole Soccer Complex. “Whenever I get my starting chance I’ll to give it my all and whenever I get into the game, I just want to work hard.” 

The FC Dallas loanee scored the game winner last week during Orlando City’s 1-0 victory over Charleston Battery. That followed by getting recalled to his parent MLS club where he joined their reserve side during inter-league play, which saw Span assist the 1-0 game winner over Oklahoma City Energy FC earlier in the week. 

Span told the OSJ that he should be set to go when Orlando City embarks in a two-game road trip with Toyota Stadium up first when the Lions face off against his home-Dallas side on Tuesday. The Déjà vu for the midfielder will continue when he will meet once again the Energy FC next week, a game he said he feels comfortable going into. 

“All the traveling and all the playing with different teams is mentally draining. I’m trying to get back, and be ready to go on Tuesday,” he said. “I know both teams, so it gives me an advantage and to know what I’m facing. Oklahoma City, I just played against and had an assist, so I know how both teams are.” 

While it isn’t clear if Span’s performance in the past week has influenced Heath’s starting XI, consistency, which is happening now, may play a factor in the starting lineup. 

OCSC head coach Heath wasn’t present during Saturday’s practice since he was in Uruguay scouting talent and watching games via team source. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Span summoned to FC Dallas Reserves squad

By Mike Gramajo

Orlando City SC midfielder Brian “Cobi” Span has been recalled to FC Dallas’ Reserve squad ahead of Tuesday’s USL Pro inter-league match vs. Oklahoma City Energy FC. 

The on-loan midfielder scored the game winner in last Saturday’s 1-0 victory for Orlando City SC, and received plenty of praise from head coach Adrian Heath after the match, telling reporters that his performance on Saturday made his selection a lot more easier.  

The OSJ reached out to Orlando City team officials, and were told that Span will return to the Central Florida outfit ‘tomorrow’ ahead of their road trip next week at FC Dallas Reserves, which Heath said he feels confident that Span will gear up for the Purple Kits despite Dallas being his parent club.

The Lions currently sit in first place in the USL Pro standings with eight points.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Span’s winner lifts Orlando City to victory

By Mike Gramajo 

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — All it took was a dream debut to prevent a nightmare night. 

Brian Span’s late-game winner proved to be the difference, as Orlando City SC (2-2-0) defeated Charleston Battery 1-0 on Saturday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, in front of 4,826 fans. 

“It would of been a travesty if we hadn’t won the game with the chances we created,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told reporters on the result. “Overall, I’m pleased with the win because I thought we deserved it. I think the stuff we were disappointed last week was the general work ethic, but I thought we were very good at that tonight.” 

Span, who came in as a second-half substitute for midfielder Aodhan Quinn in the 56th minute, found the back of the net after midfielder Adama Mbengue sent in a low cross, which found Span unmarked in the box as he slotted the ball past Charleston Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper in the 74th minute. 

“It felt great, I was really preparing myself for any time my moment was,” Span said on his game-winning goal. “Coach was telling us to get into the box, and he wanted us to get many numbers in the box, and I was in the right place, right time.” 

Heath made three substitution throughout the game, all of which came early in the second half. Dennis Chin and Adama Mbengue entered the match in the 58th minute for Austin da Luz and Corey Hertzog. 

OCSC goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo earned his first clean sheet of the season despite making only one save, with much of the credit paid to Orlando’s back line that stopped the Battery from scoring. 

A strong second-half surge from Orlando proved to pay a huge factor in the victory, outshooting the Battery 8-1 as they finished with a total of 14 shoots for the total tally mark. 

In the first half, possession was evenly shared, but it was the Battery that had the upper hand after they came a lot closer to opening the scoreboard. Charleston outshot Orlando 7-5, much of the action came from the flanks when Battery midfielder Zach Prince tried taking advantage of 17-year old left back Tyler Turner.  

Corey Hertzog nearly came to scoring twice for the Lions before the halftime whistle after Turner found him in a low cross, only for Hertzog to send the ball wide of the post. 

The second chance arrived moments later when the midfielder Austin da Luz found Hertzog in a through ball, leaving Hertzog in a one-on-one scenario with Battery goalkeeper Odisnel Cooper which resulted into the ball being sent high over the cross bar. 

City’s second-consecutive victory will follow with a road trip on Tuesday, April 22, when they take on the FC Dallas Reserves. In the meantime, they sit provisionally atop the USL Pro standings with eight points. 
Photo: OCSC 

OCSC 2014 USL Pro roster (April edition)

Photo: OCSC 

By Mike Gramajo

After winning their first match of the season last week, Orlando City returns to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex as they seek unfinished business with Charleston Battery, who they drew 1-1 during opening weekend at Blackbaud Stadium.

The Lions roster tweaked a little bit after defender Joseph Toby was sent on transfer to Arizona United SC on Wednesday.

While the change won't really impact OCSC's starting lineup, which has an extreme amount of depth in the defense and midfield, it will pave way for more playing time for midfielder Mikey Lopez (on-loan from Sporting Kansas City) and Brian Span, who joined Orlando most recently from FC Dallas on a season-long loan basis.

If you can't make the trek down to Disney World, you can always watch via live stream on Youtube, kick off is set for 7:30 p.m. ET (WATCH HERE).

Below is the latest update on the Lions 2014 roster: 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

International: Orlando City to host AS Roma

Photo: OCSC
By Mike Gramajo

Orlando City SC will welcome Italian giants AS Roma for the second time, when both sides collide at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on May 23 in an international friendly at 7:30 p.m.. 

Both sides met in January 2013 at Rollins College, which resulted into a 4-0 victory for the Italian side against an Orlando City side not having a solid preseason yet. 

“AS Roma are one of the top clubs in the world and we are delighted to have them back in Florida again,” Orlando City President Phil Rawlins said in a statement on Thursday. “I know our fans will enjoy seeing The Lions take on a world class team like Roma.”

Despite having lost their last encounter against Roma, the Lions will look to have a slight advantage in regards to form, since they will be in midseason form while the Italian side will be arriving toward the end of the Serie A season. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Valentino: Our focus is USL Pro, not MLS

Photo: Joe Petro / OCSC
By Mike Gramajo

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Orlando City’s 3-1 victory over the Rochester Rhinos not only displayed a winning result, their first winning result, but for defender Rob Valentino it was a performance that served as a wake up call. 

“I think it’s important to set the tone for the club, ourselves and not necessarily about MLS,” Valentino told reporters after the result. “We’re going to hear from every single player, we’re not focus on MLS, we’re focus on this season, and the tone in that locker room is what matters this year, not next year.

“We have to focus on every single game, every single Saturday not letting the level drop. Like I said, we set our own standards and we need to know that stays the same. We have the same goal every year, and we want to win both trophies.” 

Valentino, who scored OCSC’s second goal, has been a vital player to the club since their arrival to the minor leagues in 2011. 

Despite the victory, both head coach Adrian Heath and defender Rob Valentino told reporters that the result and performance were two halves, with one outweighing the other. 

“Everything you saw today, it wasn’t them outclassing us, it was us giving them everything,” said Valentino. “It’s their first game, so if we think that performance was good enough, we won’t have a performance like that all through the year.” 

After Orlando City’s ability to score multiple goals came to question during week one and two of the USL Pro, Saturday’s performance did answer those questions. However, it was self-evident that OCSC were lacking in another department, foolish defensive errors, if not the first two weeks then tonight. 

Despite Heath and Valentino criticizing their performance, Valentino did mention that the chemistry in the back line is doing well, it’s just the blinded mistakes that tend to gift the opponents the chance to score. 

“I think Brad (Rusin) and myself have a good communication between the two of us. Bods (Luke Boden) has been with us for the last four years, him and I have a good understanding, and we’re trying to mix Tyler (Turner) in, it’s his third game professionally. He’s still learning, understanding this is the real deal.” 

Orlando City claim first win over Rochester

By Mike Gramajo 

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — After three weeks of USL Pro action, Orlando City SC finally earned their first victory of the 2014 campaign. 

Goals from Kevin Molino, Rob Valentino and Dennis Chin helped pave the way for Orlando as they went on to claim a 3-1 win over the Rochester Rhinos on Saturday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, in front of 4,776 spectators. 

“I’m pleased that we won the game, I’m pleased that we scored three goals. I’m not pleased with the way we played,” Orlando City head coach Adrian Heath told reporters after the game. “Collectively we were poor, I’m really disappointed in our decision making and if we play like that, we will get beat, I guarantee that. 

“We did deserve to win the game last week, tonight I’m not so sure. It’s their (Rochester) first game, if they had been in three or four games into the season, they would of scored more. I stickup for my players all the time, but it’s too difficult to do so tonight.” 

The Lions took the lead in the opening minutes after Defender Tyler Turner founds Kevin Molino in a low-cross, who then capitalized on the pass for the 1-0 lead in the second minute. 

Adrian Heath’s men continued their dominance in possession in the first half, but it was their set pieces that helped double the lead for the Lions. Midfielder Austin da Luz played a corner kick, which resulted into Yordany Alvarez firing a shot, which hit off a wall of Rochester defenders. Defender Rob Valentino was able to execute on the rebound and double City’s lead 2-0 in the 35th minute. 

Miguel Gallardo’s chance for a clean-sheet was soon spoiled after a bad giveaway from midfielder Aodhan Quinn gave Rhinos forward JC Banks the clear-cut chance to slide the ball past Gallardo from close range in the 54th minute. 

With Rochester playing more of an aggressive second-half, Heath made several changes to the midfield, bringing forward Dennis Chin, and midfielders Adama Mbengue, Mikey Lopez to help a depleted Orlando forward line. 

Dennis Chin, who was subbed in the 71st minute for Corey Hertzog, wasted no time in giving Orlando the insurance goal after he was able to execute on a rebound from a low-cross from Kevin Molino for the 3-1 lead. 

OCSC got the best of the Rhinos when it came to shots, outshooting the Rochester side 8-4 in the first half, finishing 14-9 for the game in favor of Orlando. 

Defender Luke Boden, who has been the catalyst for Orlando in the last two matches, was more quiet in the left flanks after being heavily guarded by Rochester’s line of midfielders and defenders. Meanwhile, defender Tyler Turner had some difficulties in challenging for the 50/50 ball. 

With the victory, Orlando City sit provisionally in first place of the USL Pro standings with five points, and they return to Disney World when they take on Charleston Battery on Saturday, April 12 with a 7:30 kickoff. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Orlando City SC 2014 USL Pro roster

Photo: Mark Thor / OCSC 
By Mike Gramajo

With Orlando City already in USL Pro action, the Lions made some more moves this past week which include bolstering their midfield.

OCSC announced the arrival of Brian "Cobi" Span on Wednesday, after agreeing with MLS side FC Dallas to loan the midfielder for the 2014 USL Pro season.

With the addition of Span, Orlando's midfield now jumps to 10 players filling that position. City head coach Adrian Heath did tell the OSJ that the formation won't change, but did add after last Saturday's home-opener that another player will be added to increase bodies in the final third.

Midfielder Kevin Molino was moved up top alongside forward Corey Hertzog last week, signaling that Heath is utilizing Molino as a false No. 9.

Orlando City return to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex on Saturday when they welcome the Rochester Rhinos at 7:30 p.m. (WATCH HERE).

Below is the latest update on the Lions 2014 roster: