Match Review: Orlando City 1 – 2 Stoke

Stoke follow up with win after Arnie’s American Dream

Stoke City managed to come out victorious in their game across the pond as they beat Orlando City 2-1 last night. A goalless first half was quickly followed by goals from Stoke’s Mame Diouf and Orlando’s Hadji Barry, before Bojan fired in a glorious winner to settle the score between the sister clubs. UK based spectators had to wait until 2:30am to be rewarded with the final whistle after enduring a dodgy (albeit free) live stream and some amusing American commentators.

Hughes tested his experimental five-at-the-back formation yet again as key players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Glenn Whelan were still recovering from Euro 2016. Despite flying out to America, there was no place for new signing Joe Allen in the squad for this game. With Hughes confirming that Ramadan Sobhi would be integrated into the squad on the club’s arrival back in Blighty, there was room for Marko Arnautovic to make his first start for the club since the glistening new four-year deal he signed with the club earlier that day. Ryan Shawcross, although having back concerns earlier in pre-season, kept his place in defence and Mame Diouf kept his place in the side having scoring the equaliser against Preston North End last weekend.

The opening stages of the game saw chances for both sides and both ‘keepers were forced into denying goal-scoring opportunities. However the closest anyone came to scoring early on was Orlando’s Molino, who saw a long range pile-driver whistle wide past the angle between the posts. Stoke became more alive after a water break midway through the first forty-five and the best chance of the game then fell their way: Arnautovic stormed down the left wing and hooked a cross into Bojan, who then skewed the ball back into the area towards Muniesa, however the centre back’s advances were wasted as his shot from 12 yards collided with Orlando bodies blocking the goal-line and the game remained 0-0.

It remained goalless going into half time and the second half, where Orlando took the opportunity to make a handful of substitutions. Although Stoke looked to be the team suffering the most from the climate, Hughes obviously had the player’s fitness in mind as the team remained unchanged. This appeared to have paid off as Stoke opened the scoring: Glen Johnson sent a cross into Mame Diouf who could only smack the ball into the Orlando ‘keeper the first time of asking, however he managed to smartly scoop the ball home from the rebound with the Orlando goalkeeper still recovering on the floor. The goal signalled the first time that Stoke have been leading a game this season.

However this lead quickly dissipated when minutes later Orlando decided to play a quick free kick on the edge of the Stoke area, allowing Hadji Barry to worm his way past numerous Stoke defenders before hammering a shot towards Butland that was too hot to handle. The game was levelled as quickly as it went the way of the Potters. The lack of clean sheet yet again mixed with the conditions led to Stoke players losing their heads slightly, for instance Mame Diouf caught an opposing player with a high boot and Philipp Wollscheid reacted angrily to an Orlando players’ physicality by elbowing him in the face; luckily for both it was a pre-season friendly and the incidents were brushed aside swiftly. One player who did keep his head however was Bojan who decided to take control of the game. An intercepted Stoke pass was picked up by the Catalan genius who quickly finessed a devilishly curling attempt towards the Orlando goal, away from the goalkeeper and into the back of the net to put the Potters back in front again.

Having taken the lead, Mark Hughes decided to make a host of changes and allowed the team to absorb some Orlando pressure. The defence managed to deal with most of the threats well and there was no clear way through for the locals. Stoke even managed to create a chance of their own as Charlie Adam skied a ball into the area towards substitute Joselu, who could only divert the ball into the path of an onrushing Orlando goalkeeper. Orlando did have one final opportunity at the end of the game: substitute Nocerino lashed a long range low and hand from the edge of the area towards Butland, however the shot was blocked by a man in purple and safely bounced behind for a goal kick. This was the last chance of the game and it granted Stoke with their first victory of the season, the players with some more match fitness and the fans watching back home with bed time.

Obviously, there is little that can be taken from pre-season game in terms of analysis. We should take this result with as much of a pinch of salt as we did with the 3-0 loss to Burton almost two weeks ago. However it’s good to see the Stoke players beginning to reform the chemistry and reignite the fire that was missing in the previous two warm-up matches and most individuals made drastic improvement from the previous game. It will be interesting to see new recruits in the upcoming matches with Allen looking the most likely to feature next ahead of Sobhi. But the main thing we can take away from today is that fans saw Marko Arnautovic dance around a football field in the ‘candy-cane’ colours of Stoke City without lingering fears that he could trade that jersey for another.

Arnie’s back. The wins are back. Stoke are back.

Written by Ben Rowley



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