On the one hand, it’s not all that unusual for players to set all-time USL PRO records. USL PRO didn’t exist until two years ago, so we’re not talking epic time scales.
But when a guy comes along and breaks — strike that, I meant to type “obliterates” — your all-time goal-scoring record IN JUST 12 GAMES, well, that’s not something that happens every other year.
We’re talking about Dom Dwyer, of course. Dwyer is the 22-year-old English footballer who came to the U.S. to attend college, went to Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, and then “went down” to Orlando on loan as part of the 2013 MLS-USL PRO cooperation agreement. In 12 league matches for the Lions between April 7 and June 9, Dwyer scored 15 times, blowing up the previous season record of 11 — set in 2012 by his Orlando teammate, Dennis Chin.
Dwyer’s form was so uncanny that Sporting Kansas City thanked Orlando Coach Adrian Heath for bringing out the best in their young striker by canceling his “season-long” loan to the Lions on June 26. Though he didn’t start, Dwyer made his 2013 MLS debut on Wednesday when he subbed on for Claudio Bieler in the 58th minute of Sporting’s home draw versus Vancouver.
Dwyer was one of four players loaned by Kansas City to the already mighty Orlando City Lions this spring, and their arrival spurred the ambitious squad from central Florida to an absolutely dominant first-half performance.
But then last week happened.
Coming out of a disappointing home loss to Brazilian side Fluminense on Saturday, June 22, the Cinderella team of the 2013 U.S. Open Cup traveled up to Chicago last Wednesday — where the Fire promptly burned Orlando to the ground, 5-1. On Thursday, Sporting KC announced Dwyer’s recall to the mother club. On Friday, SKC doubled-down on the bad news for Orlando fans, cutting all ties to promising young Cameronian defender Yann Songo’o. At the time, Songo’o was tied for the team lead in minutes played, and the Lions were second in the league in scoring defense with 11 goals allowed.
And then on Saturday, the Lions lost 0-2 to Richmond at the Florida Citrus Bowl, ending a 25-game home unbeaten streak that dated back to 2011.
So that’s a bad week no matter how you slice it.
And then this week, things got worse.
In the wake of Saturday’s loss came the news that Orlando would lose two more of its players to international duty. Seldom-used substitute defender Jean Alexandre went home to play for Haiti, but the loss of Kevin Molino hurt. Molino has played 12 games for Orlando this season, contributing a goal and three assists along the way.
Without him, the Lions went up to Wilmington on Wednesday and let a precious road win slip away in the late minutes.
Which brings us up to now, looking ahead to Friday night’s first match in Charleston’s back-to-back home-and-away series with Orlando.
Not hype, just mathematics
To put these next two games in context, Orlando won the 2012 regular season Commissioner’s Cup, and Charleston won the USL PRO Championship. If you think Charleston’s title doesn’t sting the boys in purple, consider this: In their website preview of this trip to the Carolinas, Orlando’s front office public relations staff referred to Charleston as the “2012 USL PRO postseason champions.” Meow.
And then there’s the math. Both teams have played 15 matches, and Orlando is seven points ahead of Charleston in the league table with 33, clinging to a slim lead over Harrisburg (31 points on 15 matches) and Richmond (30 points on 14 matches). Charleston would still be in good shape to qualify for the playoffs if it lost both to Orlando, but any realistic hope of contending for the Commissioner’s Cup would slip beyond their grasp.
For its part, Charleston is coming off a 12-day break. And they needed it after playing 15 games between May 1 and June 22, too.
Orlando’s 2013 season was a rolling fireworks show until adversity showed up last week. Charleston’s season has been marred by nagging injuries and near-misses on valuable points at home.
Friday night’s match gives the Black and Yellow a once-in-a-season opportunity to flip that first-half-of-the-season momentum their way, while narrowing the gap on the suddenly vulnerable OCL in the process.
“It’s important for maybe winning the league, but in the overall structure, every team has to play home and away with Orlando,” Battery Coach Mike Anhaeuser said. “It’s more important for us to get a result at home. It’s not that it’s Orlando… And no matter what happens, it’s not the end of the season, because Orlando is one of the best teams. Just like we are…
“You don’t want to put any more pressure (on the players), because any time you play a good team, sometimes it’s a 50-50 game. They’re not coming to lose. They’re coming here to probably get three points, you know what I mean? They’re looking at it because they want to stay on the top of the table. We want to win to move up and to be battling for first place.
“But you’ve got to keep it in perspective. We’ve got six home games, we figured, five away. We want to win all our home games. And that starts tomorrow.”
Most minor-league clubs wouldn’t stand much of a chance if it lost two players of Songo’o and Dwyer’s caliber, but Orlando is no ordinary third-level team. The club’s ownership group relocated the USSL D2 Austin Aztex to Central Florida in 2011, and in just three years elevated the city from MLS-expansion afterthought to a consensus favorite to become the senior league’s first Southeastern franchise.
In addition to Molina, the 2013 Lions returned 2012 stars Dennis Chin, a forward who led the league in scoring last season, attacking midfielder Jamie Watson, 27-year-old veteran defenders Kieron Bernard and Rob Valentino. That’s not to mention 2011 USL PRO Goalkeeper of the Year Miguel Gallardo, or veteran English-league midfielders James O’Connor (a 33-year-old from Ireland) and Anthony Pulis (the son of longtime Stoke City manager Tony Pulis).
The deal with with SKC also sent in Christian Duke, a midfielder, and Jon Kempin, a homegrown product of Sporting’s academy system. Meanwhile, the front office acquired several strong contributors, including former Vancouver/D.C. United center forward Long Tan, 24-year-old defenders Bryan Burke (from the LA Blues) and Luke Boden (an English left back) and 25-year-old midfielder Freddie Braun, who spent 2012 with the Portland Timbers.
With two homegrown products from their U-23 PDL team (midfielders Adama Mbengue and Jonathan Mendoza) picking up game minutes to round out the roster, the Lions were both deeper and more talented coming into 2013 than any other team in the league. As their U.S. Open Cup run extended into June, soccer wags (myself included) began where Orlando’s squad would rank if it moved up to MLS.
But with Bernard retiring due to injuries on May 30th (Orlando quietly worked out a loan deal with expansion FC Phoenix for Brazilian defender Renan Boufleur as a replacement two weeks ago) , plus the loss of Dwyer and Songo’o, and the temporary absence of Molino, cracks began to appear in the Lion’s facade.
How they play
Anhaeuser describes Orlando this way:
“They’re a team that really likes to play the ball. They’ll pass it. They’ll move it around the back. They’re comfortable with all their players. They’ll spread out a little bit like Tampa did. But then they’ve also got that quality and that little bit of something extra up in the final third to cause you a problem.”
While Anhaeuser doesn’t rule out a return by Dwyer this season, he correctly points out that a wounded Lion can still be a dangerous thing, Chin, Watson and Tan are all talented attacking players.
“But they are different players, and yeah, (Dwyer) was on fire. And anytime you’ve got a forward who is scoring all your goals and you take him out, somebody else has to figure it out. And that can take time.
“I think like (Wednesday night at Wilmington) and the game before (Richmond), you’re used to using him. It’s just like us when we had Dane (out against Tampa). If you don’t have Dane, it’s a different a player, it’s a different style and you have to get used to them.
“They’ve got to adjust, but they don’t change their style. They still pass it, but you do maybe lose that – boom! That killer last pass that gets in or gets over the top, where (Dwyer) was able to knock a guy off because he was so strong. And with his pace, man, he he had pace where he could get in behind and finish 1v1. That’s what they’re going to have to make up for.
“We’ve got to match it. We’ve got the ability to catch them. We’ve got some pace in some positions that can cause them problems and we need to utilize that, just like we did against Salt Lake and just like we did against Houston. Our counterattack is very good, and that’s where they’re susceptible. ”
One obvious adjustment is their basic formation. With Dwyer and Tan available, Heath played a 4-4-2 that pared the two strikers up top and used Chin, the league’s 2012 leading scorer, as a substitute.
Since Dwyer’s departure, Heath has shifted to a 4-5-1 formation similar to the one employed by Anhaeuser.
“I have a feeling that if they play 4-5-1, that just means they’re playing a little more defensive, which some teams do on the road. Down there they might go back to a 4-4-2. So we’re ready for both. We talked about it with Colin (Falvey), just figuring it out. But we’ve seen both in the season. It shouldn’t give us any problems.
“The big thing is, they are a passing team, you have to be ready for it, and they are good. You know they’re going to get their chances and you know they’re going to have some possession. And that’s what they want to do. They want to try to possess it to cause you a problem. We can’t get frustrated with it. We need to match that and then create more chances.”
Battery coming off their break
When I last checked in with the team on Wednesday, they looked as healthy as I could remember. They looked fresh and loose, t00 — a welcome change from the post-bus-trip-burnouts who showed up to play Tampa on June 22.
But Thursday brought some bad news: Left back John Wilson picked up a minor injury in Wednesday’s scrimmage, and will miss Friday’s match. Anhaeuser expects him to be back for the trip to Orlando.
Everyone except Wilson was scrimmaging when I arrived at Thursday’s practice, but there were a few limps and conversations with trainer Bobby Weisenberger as things wound down. Still, this is as rested and healthy as the Battery have looked in months. Anhaeuser is more concerned about rust than he is about fatigue now. What a difference two weeks makes.
The return of Dane Kelly is probably the biggest Battery news. With Kelly in Jamaica working out a Green Card issue on June 22, the Battery simply couldn’t stretch a compact VSI Tampa Bay defense and their home match ended in a frustrating scoreless draw.
One little practice note: The player who stood out consistently in the finishing drills I watched this week was winger Quinton Griffith. Not only did Griffith look deadly with the ball, he also appeared … intense. Griffith has an obvious sunny side to his personality, but since returning from his May hamstring injury he’s struck me as more focused. He was the last player off the practice pitch today, taking extra shots on goal.
Academy players and the Bantams match
Three players from the SC United Battery Academy practiced with the first team this morning: Waldo Cepeda, Hunter Danna and Joe Terry. Academy alumnus Robert Beebe joined with regular keepers Odisnel Cooper and Kevin Klasila during drills.
Beebe, from Summerville, is the goalkeeper for the USC Gamecocks and Palmetto Bantams FC, a PDL squad in Columbia. The Battery will make a quick run up I-26 to play an exhibition with the Bantams on Saturday night at 7:30 at Stone Field on the USC campus. The Battery is looking into making some kind of official deal with the Bantams. And those local academy players should expect to see some significant minutes.
“It’s something that we want to do,” Anhaeuser said. “They’ve got some academy players and we’re going to use some of our academy players with us. That’s really what it’s about, trying to get some of these younger guys some meaningful minutes. And it’s important for us to play some of the guys who won’t play tomorrow 90 minutes. Because next week we’ve got two games on the road and I always use everybody. So it’s great for them to get 90 minutes. And it’s a competitive game.”
Your questions for Coach Anaheuser
Jenny Kent Almers wanted to know “Why we don’t play at least 2 men up front?” The Battery have typically taken the field in a nominal 4-5-1 formation this year.
“Well, we do play three,” said Anhaeuser, who often describes that 4-5-1 as being quite a bit like a 4-3-3. “(Jose Cuevas) is a forward and he plays out, and when Quinton’s healthy he’s more like a winger. The problem was Dane was out and it might have dropped back the formation.
“The issue is, we don’t play two strikers. That’s what people would notice. So our shape, if you play a 4-4-2, there’s two that stay up there. They work together and they’re up there. So yes, I technically do not have that. Do I do what I did that one game when we came back versus Charlotte and it worked? But also, if you play two strikers, they’ve got to be able to play 90 minutes. (Center forward Heviel Cordoves) hasn’t proven that he can play 90 minutes, even when he’s given the chance up by himself.
“You’ve got to remember, we’ve got other players. Nicki is really an offensive player. You can almost say that if we’ve got one striker that’s way up high, we’ve got two or three that are either on the outside or in behind. So that would be my answer, and it’s more because of what we have.
“I would say, you never know, we might see (a 4-4-2) down these last 11 games, if we can keep guys healthy and fit and need to try something different. But right now it’s not like we’re not getting goals.”
Mike Buytas, the president of The Regiment and the man behind Charleston’s push for an American Outlaws chapter, wanted to know about the condition of the field after all this rain.
“The field is recovering,” said Anhaeuser, who shook his head when I asked if the problems were caused primarily by the rain. “It’s from all the use. It’s the transition of the grass.
“The transition of the grass is taking time because of the weather. Because we didn’t have heat, the Bermuda didn’t start growing until later in the season. For us, we keep that rye longer, and now, which you will see, there are patches in the back (where) you can see it’s absolutely terrible, because it kills the Bermuda underneath when you play on rye. You just don’t see it until this time. So people will see it.
“It’s recovering. It’s in pretty good shape. But it’s definitely not in the shape we would like it to be in. But I think … this will hopefully be the only week that you’ll notice a difference with the sand and things that you have to do for maintenance (the Battery play their next home game on July 19). But the rain did hurt because it hurt our maintenance for three to four days.”
Tailgate plans, etc.
Passing along this note from The Regiment:
1. Game tomorrow night. We will be tailgating and expect around 20 guests from Orlando to join us. Menu includes ribs, hot dogs and Frogmore stew. Presliced watermelons are welcomed. As are sides, desserts and beverages for the cooler. Normal 5:00 PM start time.2. Annual Bus Trip – Friday, August 2nd to Wilimington NC. 49 Passenger bus, with bathroom has been secured. We will leave Blackbaud Stadium at 1:00 PM with return around 1:00 AM. Cost for members is only $35 and non members are $45. Price includes travel and ticket to match. You can sign up at www.theregiment.bigcarrel.comor reply to these emails so other payment arrangements are made.3. New scarf is in and looks great! They will be for sale at the Regiment table startingtomorrow. Price is $15 for members and $20 for non members. You can also purchase one at our store at www.theregiment.bigcartel.com4. Players Appreciation Picnic – Hard to believe this is already being planned (seems like the season just started). Mark your calendars to join us on Sunday, August 18, 2013. More details to follow.