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Orlando City traveled to Jacksonville to take on Armada FC of the NASL in a much anticipated first match up between the Florida rivals.
The Lions took the lead in the 32nd minute as captain Ricardo Kaká (pictured above) curled a lovely free kick into the top left hand corner, just past the outstretched hands of former Orlando goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo. The scoreline remained intact until half time as both teams battled out a pretty even first half.
The second half was a different story though as the Armada found another gear and improved their performance enormously. City replaced goalkeeper Joe Bendik to give Earl Edwards, Jr. some game time but he could do nothing to prevent the home side from turning the game around.
Former Lions defender Mechak Jérôme (pictured above) replicated Kaka’s curling free kick from a similar position in the 48th minute after forward Matt Fondy had been upended and then the Armada took a deserved lead ten minutes later as forward Alhassane Keita charged across the Orlando defensive line before hitting a long-range shot that took a slight deflection to give Edwards, Jr. no real chance to pull off a save.
In the 60th minute, Lions Head Coach Adrian Heath decided to give his remaining roster some valuable playing time in the preseason friendly as he introduced defenders Aurélien Collin, Tyler Turner, Luke Boden, Kevin Alston and Tommy Redding, midfielders Harrison Heath, Servando Carrasco and Richie Laryea as well as forward Hadji Barry to the line up that also included half time substitute Pedro Riberio.
Several former Lions featured for the Armada including goalkeeper Gallardo )pictured above) and defender Jérôme and both Bryan Burke and former Orlando City draft pick Akeil Barrett made significant contributions as the home side comfortably saw the match out.
For Orlando, the game was a chance to put into play some of the defensive and tactical work they had been working on in training during the week. After the match, Head Coach Adrian Heath (pictured above center with Tony Meola left and Miguel Gallardo right) commented “I’m really pleased with this game for us. Thought it was a good first half with a lot of positivity. Considering we are two weeks out, I thought there was a lot of good stuff happening in the game. Did we want to win, yes, but that’s not what these games are all about.”
Armada FC Head Coach Tony Meola said “The last thing we said coming out of the locker room was, ‘Find a way to win the game,’ and we did that. The atmosphere probably gave them a little extra boost. I’m proud of the effort. I thought we were really organized against a very good team, especially in the second half when we figured it out a little.”
At the final whistle the Armada fans celebrated a famous victory while Orlando City supporters launched into a chant of “Gallardo!” to serenade their former goalkeeper as he headed to the locker room. The former fans favorite jogged over to the hundreds of visiting fans and motioned to his heart before saying “For me to come out after two years of not playing for their team, and them chanting my name — it was really special, and it made me feel proud of what I accomplished over there, but I’ve turned the page. We have a really good team. The feeling I have right now is obviously satisfaction from winning tonight but also of excitement and hope that I believe we have a really good team and we can achieve something special this season.”
Speaking more about the match Gallardo added “From players like Kaká you can expect anything, a moment of brilliance. Obviously he is a great player and he showed that tonight. The goal he scored is a beautiful goal, so I definitely have a lot more respect for him now after playing against him.”
“All due respect to their organization, but if anybody says it’s a friendly game and they didn’t care to get the win, obviously I would have to disagree with that,” said Gallardo. “You could see the intensity those guys were playing with, especially in the first half. They were getting upset when they weren’t getting calls or when my teammates would steal the ball.”
The evening ended on a humorous note though as Jérôme joked about his goal “I think I took it better. Mine was a little bit further, so I did it better than Kaká tonight.”
Orlando City opens the 2016 MLS season against Real Salt Lake on Sunday, Mar. 6 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl. Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. For tickets, visit www.OrlandoCitySC.com or call 855-ORL-CITY.
Orlando Starting Lineup:
Orlando City SC – First Half: GK Joe Bendik, D, Seb Hines, Brek Shea, Rafael Ramos, M Kaka, Cristian Higuita, Darwin Ceren, Adrian Winter, Tony Rocha, F Cyle Larin
More photos at www.FloridaLeisurePhotography.com