After opening the season at home with a last-second 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the Dayton Dutch Lions traveled to Florida this weekend to face VSI Tampa Bay FC and Orlando City on consecutive nights. Dayton split the two matches, emerging with a victory over Tampa Bay on Friday before falling to Orlando on Saturday.
Dayton and Tampa Bay struggled back and forth in the first half. Both teams generated a few scoring opportunities, but neither was able to convert. The teams headed into the locker room at halftime with the score knotted at 0-0.
In the second half, Tampa Bay ratcheted up the pressure with good effect. Twice, a Tampa Bay attacker was permitted to dribble into the right side of the box and send a cross to the far post. Both times, an unmarked teammate was allowed to make a free run to the far post. The first cross was intercepted by Matt Williams, who came off his line. The second time, the crossing pass just failed to connect.
Tampa Bay created other scoring chances for themselves in the second half, but couldn’t capitalize. One shot curled over Williams’ outstretched gloves, but glanced off the crossbar. Another Tampa Bay attack went awry when a wide open shot from the right of the box sailed wide of the near post.
Despite the missed opportunities, the flow of the game lent itself to the ominous feeling that Tampa Bay would break through with a goal at any moment. It was Dayton, though, that would break the scoreless deadlock in the 68th minute. Eric Kissinger crossed from the left to Brandon Swartzendruber, who beat Alex Horwath with an emphatic strike past the near post. Dayton would cling to the 1-0 lead until full-time, handing Tampa Bay their first home loss of the season.
The result gave Dayton its second consecutive victory in league play, a feat that the Dutch Lions failed to accomplish in all of 2012. In fact, it took Dayton until July 4 to win a total of league games last year. It also gave the Dutch Lions six points in the USL PRO standings. It was June 23 by the time the Dayton had earned as many points last season. This is definitely not the same Dayton team that started slowly last year.
It was not, however, a completely positive experience for the Dutch Lions, who spent the majority of the second half on their heels. Dayton was unable to create much offense with simple passes through the midfield and seemed content to rely on longer passes. Tampa Bay, on the other hand, appeared to work the ball through the midfield into the attacking third with relative ease. A Dayton fan with whom I was watching the game commented that “We looked better against Pittsburgh, playing a man down.” I agree.
When Dayton arrived at Fifth-Third Field at the Florida Citrus Bowl to take on Orlando City in front of an announced crowd of 9,589, they brought their weary legs with them. Although the Dutch Lions fought hard for the first several minutes of the contest, Orlando began to assert their will midway through the first half and scored three goals in a 12 minute stretch to put the match out of reach for Dayton.
The scoring opened in the 27th minute when Dennis Chin, assisted by Jamie Watson, chipped a shot over Matt Williams. Then Dom Dwyer finished from inside the box after receiving a pass from Rob Valentino. Just a few minutes later, Dwyer was fouled by Taylor Lord in the penalty box, and Watson converted the penalty kick. Dwyer scored his second of the night in the second half.
There is some truth to the statement that Dayton’s disappointing effort could be attributed to the fatigue of a long bus trip and little recover time between matches, but it would be unfair to Orlando City. Adrian Heath’s team had amassed an impressive early season record, but there have been times that Orlando has struggled. Not on Saturday night. Orlando seemed determined to prove that they are the team everyone thought they were in the preseason.
Here’s the stat of the weekend for Dayton. The Dutch Lions took eight shots in the two matches compared to the opponents’ 38. This is a team that is supposed to have a lot of talent on front line to handle creative opportunities produced by the midfield. I believe this to be true, but it wasn’t apparent in Florida.
Perhaps I’ve been a little to harsh on the Dutch Lions in recapping their trip to the Sunshine State. After all, coming home with three points should count as a successful road trip by most standards. There is no doubt that this club has improved over last season, and road wins are cherished in USL PRO. I suppose the manner in which they lost to Orlando has left a bitter taste. The Dutch Lions will have a chance for something sweet if they prevail against the Charleston Battery at home on May 3.