ORLANDO, Fla. — While Cyle Larin got the all-important goal in Orlando City SC’s momentous opening-day victory in their new stadium, it was his – and the team’s – defensive prowess that earned most plaudits from head coach Jason Kreis.
In his first full preseason with the Lions, Kreis has preached an 11-man approach to defending, and it was that focus in the 1-0 win over New York City FC, despite conceding almost 69 percent of the possession, which had him singing his team’s praises.
“It was a big, big night for everybody defensively,” Kreis said. “I think the team spirit would have buckled last year. The crowd was absolutely fantastic, but the level of work and commitment of our team was off the charts.”
Larin’s 15th-minute goal, off a left-wing feed from newly signed Giles Barnes, who was only on as an early substitute after the hamstring injury to captain Kaka, was all Orlando needed to hold off almost constant New York pressure in the final 70 minutes of the game.
And Kreis confirmed it was not just his big striker’s lethal touch in front of goal that had him purring with pleasure.
“I think Cyle’s [goalscoring] instincts have been fantastic from day one in this league,” the head coach said. “I would say he’s one of the most dangerous players in the penalty box.
“But it’s the other stuff that’s really growing in his game and we saw it tonight. He put in a really solid shift for us defensively. He put defenders under pressure, and he’s going to need to continue to do that and increase his volume for that work.”
Larin was quick to credit Barnes’s deep cross for putting him in the perfect spot to convert his far-post opening.
“I saw Giles get the ball and he looked up once, and, as soon as he did, I knew he was going to cross it back post,” Larin said. “Obviously I wanted a goal, but I wanted the win more and that was the most important thing – winning the game for the fans and this organization. We wanted a lot, and the goal was a plus, really.
“We all defend as an eleven, and when the front men are doing our jobs, it definitely helps the defense. It’s a team game, and we really saw that today.”
The injury to Kaka – which Kreis referred to as “potentially serious” – was a big blow to the home team, but Larin revealed that the captain certainly had an impact before the game started.
“It was tough to see him go down early. It’s hard to lose a player like that,” Larin said. “He was playing really well at the beginning. But before we went out, he spoke to everybody, and told us how important the game was, but just to play and not be nervous, and everyone went out and did their job.”