ORLANDO, Fla. — Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but it means absolutely nothing in soccer if you can’t score.
Case in point: New York City FC’s 1-0 season-opening MLS loss to Orlando City SC Sunday night. After surrendering the goal in the 11th minute, the Blues dominated the rest of the debut match at Orlando City Stadium. They enjoyed an astounding 68.4-percent ball possession, placed seven shots on goal to Orlando’s one and completed twice as many passes.
“We controlled play,” midfielder Alex Ring said. “The stats don’t mean nothing.”
“We deserved something from the game,” City coach Patrick Vieira said. “We played well enough to take at least a point back to New York.”
Instead, Orlando City celebrated the opening of its stadium in front of a capacity crowd of 25,527 with three points, riding Cyle Larin’s goal and the stellar goalkeeping of Huntington native Joe Bendik.
Orlando suffered a tough blow in the 11th minute when Brazilian great Kaka was forced from the game with a left hamstring strain. Four minutes later, his replacement, Jamaican international Giles Barnes, set up the lone goal. Barnes sent a left-wing cross to Larin at the far post, and the Canadian international beat defender Ronald Matarrita and headed the ball past goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
“Larin’s a good player. He’s a strong kid. He finishes well,” Johnson said. “We limited his chances. He’s very strong in the air. We’ve got to do better to prevent him from getting into positions where he can be dangerous and punish us.”
After the goal, City woke up, dominating and doing just about everything but finding the back of the net.
“Take off the first 10 minutes with the Orlando goal, we only have one team in the game,” captain David Villa said. “We missed a lot of chances today.”
Bendik was in fine form, grabbing everything sent his way. His most memorable save came in the 53rd minute, when he dived to his right to deny a close-range shot by Jack Harrison, who was left holding his head in disbelief.
“The goalkeeper was the man of the match,” Vieira said. “We have to be more ruthless when we have the chance.”
It was a difficult loss, but there are 33 regular-season games remaining. “We can’t drop our heads,” Johnson said. “The chemistry will keep being built over the course of the season. We will get stronger and stronger.”
The Blues host D.C. United in their home opener next Sunday at Yankee Stadium.
“We believe that if we play like that today, we win more games than we lose,” Villa said.