Orlando City Holds Intrasquad Scrimmage

It was a nice Saturday morning at the (soon to be former) training facilities of Orlando City.

Media members, along with one of the higher up OCSC Academy teams, were treated to a nice glance at the team in what was a competitive intrasquad scrimmage.

The majority of first team contributors for this season were participating, but a few key pieces were missing out.

Observations from the morning:

Notably absent from the scrimmage were Cyle Larin (away on Canadian National team duty and unlikely to return until the day after Canada play USA on February 5th), Rafa Ramos (out with an in-grown toenail), Bryan Róchez (in attendance observing in street-clothes) and Kevin Molino (On the cusp of returning to full action, and must be chomping at the bit to get into such a session as Saturday’s).

The team scrimmaged a full 11 v 11 on a shortened field, which made it more impressive that they were connecting and moving the ball up and down the pitch with a good understanding of each other.

The defensive grouping of Luke Boden at left fullback, Seb Hines and Aurélion Collin in the center, along with newcomer Kevin Alston at right fullback provided a could-be look at a starting back four that appeared to be quite harmonious. These players were in front of newcomer Joe Bendik in goal.

Kevin Alston was impressive on my first chance to watch him up close. He seemed comfortable with his teammates and was winning challenges with a few very nice tackles. He and Rafa Ramos should do each other well in challenging for the playing time.

Joe Bendik made a few nice saves including one in particular that was brilliant. However, he did let in the lone goal of the scrimmage just minutes before the session was concluded. The jury is still out on Bendik.

With Boden playing left back for this group, it allowed Brek Shea to play at left midfield, but for the opposite squad. Brek tried to do too much at times, but overall commanded the position well and was looking in good health.

Speaking of left midfielders, the enigmatic Carlos Rivas was again a threat up the left side of the pitch above Boden. Rivas’ dynamicism is always evident, and it seems that he is finally beginning to slow the game down between the ears. He looked quite sharp at times today, especially with the pace and accuracy of a few of his passes. Rivas still had his fair share of mistakes with the ball, but he impressed when provided an excellent opportunity to score. Where last year he likely would have booted it high and over the crossbar, this shot came within a foot of slotting into the far bottom corner against Bendik. Hopefully a year of experience under the belt has helped Rivas take that next step forward in his abilities as a player.

Opposite the aforementioned grouping of defenders was the towering pairing of Tommy Redding and David Mateos. Mateos didn’t catch my eye at all (not that he was bad, he was not), but Redding was showing his potential once again with a few nice blocks and tackles. His confidence on the ball is calming, and he has a new, observable comfort level amongst his peers which was evidently missing last year as a starry eyed youngster. Redding looked consistently sharp the duration of the scrimmage.

On the left side of Redding and Mateos was OCB player Mikey Ambrose. This young lad is oozing with talent, and in my opinion has clear MLS talent and should feature this season. Ambrose was loud and communicative, he was fast and direct with his movement, and he made excellent overlapping runs linking up with Brek Shea. His service into the box was lacking, but he has the ability to improve there. He will surely be a leader for OCB and will likely be one of the players who train regularly with the MLS team.

Orlando City’s two first-round draft choices, Richie Lareya and Hadji Barry, were both very active in the scrimmage. Lareya was a consistent player of the ball in the midfield and possesses good movement off ball. Barry was up top in the formation and was impressive making runs that saw him meet the ball in advanced positions near the goal. The only problem was, Barry lacked that final touch and sharpness in the final third. In fact, Adrian Winter twice bemoaned Barry with “Haaaadjiiii!” when he failed to find him on what Winter deemed the better scoring chance. Both Lareya and Barry have a lot to learn as they begin their MLS careers, but overall looked impressive for Rookies. You can clearly see why Orlando City selected the duo.

Trialist Jacob Schoop was looking steadier today, compared to what I had heard of his performances over the week. His best contribution of the session came on a beautiful through ball to Hadji Barry that slotted past a defender and right to Barry’s feet. Schoop didn’t try and do anything out of the basics. His fitness level looks to be sharp as he was constantly moving throughout the midfield to help both wings. Schoop looks to be MLS-worthy, and if Orlando City can’t secure someone who is a bigger need, or unquestionably more dynamic, I think he would be a solid addition to the roster.

Without being specifically noted above, I would have to say that I saw a lot of positives and cohesion out of everyone on the pitch from Kaká, Darwin Cerén, and Cristian Higuita to Harrison Heath and Pedro Ribeiro. You can clearly see why Coach Heath feels his team is weeks further along with its preparation and cohesion than at this point last year.