While the final score of Wednesday night’s Orlando City match wasn’t favorable to the home side, the Lions certainly did not look fully overwhelmed by Premier League side Arsenal, after falling 3-1 in their FC Series match.
Arsenal rested many of their starters to begin the game, while Orlando went with a number of first-choice players to start. The first 45 minutes were competitive and the Lions had some fun passages of play and moments that gave the crowd something to cheer about, which is what this game was all about.
The second half saw the introduction of Arsenal playmaker Martin Ødegaard, winger Bukayo Saka, as well as new signing Gabriel Jesus, all three added a dynamic in the attack that Orlando’s reserves had a hard time dealing with.
As the Lions and Gunners look to their respective games on Saturday, let’s look at what happened on Wednesday night that stood out.
Young Lions stand out
Even if it was Arsenal’s second team, the young trio of Mikey Halliday, Cesar Araujo, and Facundo Torres all had standout performances throughout their hour on the pitch.
While Torres scored the goal, he was also one of the most involved players in the Lions offense, acting as an outlet overtop the Gunners backline. His touch, control and finish on his goal stood out as a glimpse into the 22-year-old’s potential.
Araujo, with only 45 minutes played, was a rock in the defensive third. Leading the team in touches and passes through the first half, the Uruguayan was a standout player in front of the backline.
After not getting much playing time after returning from US U-20 duty, Mikey Halliday had some standout moments both defensively and offensively. Some of his 1v1 work on Gabriel Martinelli and his speed down the wing to open up spaces had fans talking about if the Homegrown fullback should get more looks going forward.
“It’s crazy to me, being so young and just coming into it so quickly, like with the national team, getting minutes there, building experience, and then hopping from there into playing vs. Arsenal,” Halliday said. “I’m critical to myself on mistakes I make, but a pretty solid performance, but I definitely want more and I think a lot of that just comes with more experience and more minutes played.”
Much needed minutes
With this not being a league match, Oscar Pareja took the opportunity to get some players that haven’t seen the pitch much lately an extended run out.
Joao Moutinho, who’s been out since he hurt himself on June 24th before the FC Cincinnati game, got a 45-minute spell in which he looked solid. The difference with him on and off the pitch has been noticeable over the last few matches, so getting him some time to reacclimate with no league consequences is crucial.
Antonio Carlos is a similar situation. One of three players that went the full 90, the centerback is still regaining his match fitness after missing almost four months due to injury. Seeing him go a full match as he did is a positive sign moving forward.
Players that have struggled in form, like Benji Michel and Andres Perea, got extended runouts as well. While Michel’s usual issues arose in front of goal, Perea grew a bit into the game and he seemed to play with more confidence as the game played out. With Sebas Mendez now in LA, Perea will be that much more important for this team’s depth moving forward.
Final 30 minutes falter again
Yes, it’s only a friendly and yes there are different circumstances around this game compared to league matches, but it is a stat still worth noting and it fits the narrative, so I’m going with it.
Orlando conceded two goals in the final 30 minutes of the match, something that has become very familiar for the Lions. Over the last two league games, the team has taken 1-0 halftime leads and squandered them, conceding goals in the final 30 minutes. In league play, Orlando has a -10 goal differential in the final half hour of games.
To reiterate, the circumstances around this specific game aren’t the same, but it’s still worth pointing out.