WINTER PARK, Fla. - Orlando City kicked off the new year in style, playing a friendly against three-time Serie A champion A.S. Roma in the 2013 preseason opener. Despite the 5-0 scoreline, the Lions impressed the sellout crowd at Barker Family Stadium in Winter Park, Fla., keeping up with worldwide stars like Michael Bradley, Francesco Totti and Maarten Stekelenburg in a game that the team hopes to be a springboard to a successful 2013 season.
“It’s been a really good experience for everyone,” said Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath. “It’s a huge eye-opener to what the next level of soccer is for everyone on the team.”
Roma, who trained at the Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney during their winter break, looked sharp against the 2012 USL PRO Regular Season champs. The Italian squad got started on the board early on, capitalizing on an early breakaway in the 2nd minute to take the 1-0 lead. Forward Erik Manuel Lamela notched a score after a well-directed pass by Miralem Pjanic hit the striker in stride, with the shot going up and over Orlando Goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo and into the net.
Lamela wasn’t done with scoring in the first half as the Buenos Aires native gave Roma a two goal advantage in the 13th minute. In a scrum around the box, the forward once again found the back of the net, with help coming this time from Midfielder Alessandro Florenzi. Pjanic, who held the assist on the first goal, netted Roma’s third goal in the 31st minute while Mattia Destro added a fourth in the 45th to give the Italian side a 4-0 lead going into halftime.
The second half brought about many changes for both squads, giving each club a chance to look at players who normally don’t see the pitch. Youngsters Brian Fekete from the University of Tampa and Jonathan Mendoza from the U23 squad came on as substitutes for Orlando, gaining valuable experience for players Heath has an interest in for upcoming 2013 season. The same happened for Roma, who gave playing time to keeper Bogdan Lobont, Marco Antonio De Mattos Filho and Panagiotis Tachtsidis.
Roma continued their impressive style of play, with a score by Alessandro Florenzi in the 66th adding onto their lead. The score, however, was not a concern for Heath as his team played against one of the world’s best, with the experience more valuable than a victory in the friendly.
“The match was great for our younger players to see what top level competition is,” Heath said.
All ticket proceeds of the match went to the Orlando City Soccer Foundation. A 501 (c)(3) non-profit, the Foundation promotes exercise and healthy eating to the children and families in the Central Florida area and has done recent work in the Parramore area at the New Image Youth Center.
Orlando City takes a break from friendlies until early February, when the club participates in its third Disney Pro Soccer Classic. The Lions will play against Major League Soccer clubs like the Philadelphia Union, Toronto FC and the Columbus Crew before seeing their placement on championship day on February 23. All matches will be held at the Disney Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Fla. For more information on the games, go to OrlandoCitySoccer.com.