Justin Meram the stand out for Orlando against D.C. United

Both Orlando City and DC United endured miserable 2017 seasons, but optimism was high in both camps going into the first weekend of the 2018 season.

Orlando City have made sweeping roster changes, with third-year coach Jason Kreis opting for a “win-now” formula after three straight seasons below the red line for the Lions.

DC United also were looking to put a dire 2017 season behind them after their last-place finish in the East. With the opening of Audi Field looming, the Black and Red were eager to get some early points on the board in the first of their many early-season away fixtures.

During the early minutes of the game, Orlando City dominated the possession but were struggling to break down an organised and disciplined DC defence, which included new signings Frédéric Brillant, Oneil Fisher, and goalkeeper David Ousted, who were all making their competitive debuts for the side. However, in the 15th minute referee Fotis Bazakos used the help of VAR to award the away side a controversial penalty after the ball struck the hand of Orlando City’s Will Johnson.

Former Portland Timbers and Vancouver Whitecaps striker Darren Mattocks stepped up, but his penalty was acrobatically pushed onto the crossbar by Joe Bendik to keep the scores level. Even so, DC would get their goal on the half hour mark through another new signing Yamil Asad. His inswinging free kick missed everyone, and found its way past Joe Bendik and into the net to give the away side the lead. 

Five minutes later it would get worse for Orlando, as Bazakos once again was assisted by VAR to give “PC” his marching orders, after what looked like an unintentional flailing arm into Asad’s face. For many Orlando City fans and players, memories of the disappointments of last year seemed to be continuing into 2018.

As the second half began, Orlando City’s new-look but depleted XI looked rejuvenated and intent on starting off the season strongly. Led by big-money new signing Justin Meram, the Lions put their opponents under constant pressure, dominating the ball and creating chance after chance, without really testing Ousted in the DC goal.

Rookie Chris Mueller flashed an effort wide and Paraguayan international Yoshi Youth had a volley cleared off the line, and many associated with Orlando must’ve been wondering if it was going to be their day. The goal, however, did come. Captain Jonathan Spector cut the ball back for new signing and NASL goal machine Stefano Pinho to sweep home in the 93rd minute, leaving Orlando deservedly level as the game came to a close.

While the result must’ve felt like a win for Orlando and their supporters, Ben Olsen and his players will be kicking themselves after being up by a goal and a man for almost two thirds of the encounter against an Eastern conference rival. They sat back against the ten men of Orlando, and Mattocks missed a golden opportunity to put the game beyond the reach of the men in purple with time ticking away.

Both sides, however, will feel optimistic about their seasons to come, as they both look to be above the red line in the Eastern conference come the end of the season.

Man of the Match – Justin Meram.

The former Columbus man didn’t take long to endear himself to fans of his new side, as his seemingly never ending determination and his obvious quality led to many chances for his teammates. If the Iraq International can keep this level of performance up for the rest of the season, especially when players like Klejstan, Dwyer, Rosell, and Sane come into the side, the Lions will have as good of a chance as anybody of making the playoffs for the first time in their history.

Written by Lewis Shaw (@LewisShaw39)

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