As markers go, they don’t come much more emphatic than a 2-0 road win at one of the toughest stadiums in the league.
That was Orlando City SC head coach Adrian Heath’s main takeaway following his team’s resounding victory in a game of firsts on Sunday at the Portland Timbers.
After a first MLS goal for No. 1 SuperDraft pick Cyle Larin, a first assist for the club's USL star Kevin Molino and a first penalty by – who else – Kaká, Heath was quick to focus on the significance of a result that lifted his team up to the third spot in the Eastern Conference.
“As a coach, you want to make the players believe they belong at this level,” he said. “And this is another marker that they have put down that shows they can play and be very good in this league.
“We can also take some real momentum from this for the trip to Columbus next week. The players are delighted, as they should be, and it will be a very happy flight home after this.”
With Larin making his first start for the Lions five days before his 20th birthday, there was intense pressure on the youngster to give the team a cutting edge that has proved elusive through the last few weeks.
After an appearance off the bench last week, the Canadian international was the fourth striker to start for the club in their opening six games, and his 30th-minute strike – hitting home a fierce Molino cross with his chest – was a significant breakthrough.
“As a young player starting to make a career in MLS, you always want to get that first one,” Heath said. “We had chances last week, when I thought Cyle played really well, and he kept getting in the right place today.
“This time he got his reward and it was a really great finish, to have the foresight to direct it towards goal the way he did. He didn’t have time to try to try to pull the ball down from Kevin’s cross and it showed great presence of mind. He also matched up well against two very big, physical defenders. He can be very pleased with his day’s work.”
Heath was equally delighted that City held firm in defense, keeping a shutout for the second time this season.
“Defensively, we were very pleased with the clean sheet,” he said. “When we needed the center backs and full backs to put their bodies on the line, they came up big. And [goalkeeper] Donovan Ricketts made sure of things behind them.
After coming up empty and perhaps not getting the rub of the green at key moments in their last two home matches, Orlando caught a bit of a break on Sunday when referee Kevin Stott ordered a re-take of Kaká’s saved initial penalty kick after a pair of Timbers players encroached on his attempt. The Brazilian buried the follow-up spot kick to secure all three points for the Lions.
“For once, we might have got a bit of good fortune with the penalty,” Heath said. “You won’t always see that given but we were overdue something like that and it was something we spoke about in the lead-up to the game. These things do even out over a season and we saw that today.”