ORLANDO – One down, 33 to go…
It was a day for beginnings wherever you looked at Orlando City Stadium on Sunday but NYCFC opened season three and Orlando’s new stadium with an unfortunate defeat.
Head Coach Patrick Vieira handed debuts to five offseason signings at the pristine home of their fellow 2015 Expansion Team but this fresh XI found themselves trailing with 15 minutes on the clock when Larin headed home.
Returning to the city which hosted both teams’ first-ever MLS games two years ago, NYCFC recovered well to the opening goal and peppered the Orlando goal with shots but Joe Bendik came to his side’s rescue with a number of top class saves to secure the home win.
There was an early scare for the road team in the second minute when a misplaced pass allowed Rivas to pitch in a testing cross which only just evaded that old scourge of NYCFC, Larin, meaning Johnson could punch clear.
Kaka was forced off with a hamstring injury which deflated the party atmosphere somewhat but his replacement Giles Barnes had an instant impact.
Larin would not be denied his customary goal, bringing Orlando City Stadium to its feet for the first time on 15’ courtesy of a powerful back post header from an excellent Barnes cross which left debutant Sean Johnson with no chance.
The concession of that early goal certainly seemed to shock the visiting side into action as NYCFC began to dominate the ball, carving open the Orlando defense on 31 minutes thanks to a stunning through ball from David Villa which gave Alex Ring a clear run in on goal but Bendik was in the way again to stop the Finnish midfielder from marking his debut with a goal.
Following the Larin goal, NYCFC had 75% of possession in the remaining 30 minutes of the first period and creating some presentable opportunities to equalize, so Vieira would not have been too worried by the deficit going at the half.
This pressure from the away team continued after the interval and NYCFC could and perhaps should have leveled on 53′ when Wallace’s cross found Harrison unmarked ten yards out but a combination of Bendik and Jose Aja came up big with the block and the ball squirmed inches wide of the target.
The game soon turned ill-tempered as Orlando sought to cling onto their narrow advantage, flying into some challenges with a little too much gusto, leading to stoppages which gave the hosts time to breathe.
Tommy McNamara, Ugo Okoli and Khiry Shelton were introduced with time running out and Okoli was twice close to marking his debut with the crucial equalizer but Bendik simply would not be beaten and Orlando celebrated their housewarming party with the win.