Takeaways from Huntsville City FC’s 1-1 draw with Orlando City B

On a rainy night in the Rocket City, Huntsville City FC played out a 1-1 draw, with a 4-3 penalty shootout loss to Orlando City B in their 2024 home opener. Here’s some thoughts I had on how the game went, and the players involved and how I’ve seen them the first two games of the season.

The game

It was quite the cagey affair between the two teams, there was a lot of pushing and shoving, trash talk, and yes, yellow cards to follow it. Six to be specific, with Scott Cheevers, Adem Sipić, Ollie Wright and Forster Ajago the three from Huntsville to be shown the caution. Maybe the weather made everyone a bit testy, who knows.

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Nonetheless, the scoring was opened in the 26th minute as Brennan Creek’s corner was headed home by Joel Sangwa, his first in Huntsville colors. Sangwa would also be intimately involved in Orlando’s equalizer 10 minutes later in the 36th, giving the ball away right to Orlando’s Justin Ellis who sat Sangwa down, dribbled past Scott Cheevers and put the ball in the net.

For the rest of the first half, it was just about all Orlando, with the best chance coming as Tahir Reid-Brown struck the crossbar with a first time effort in the 39th minute for the visitors.

The second half was very different. Huntsville came out firing on all cylinders, with Maximus Ekk having three chances in very short order that were all either saved or blocked. After that, the pressure stayed on Orlando, but for every attack there was a response. Despite being outshot 10 to 4 in the second half, and allowing four Huntsville shots on target in that time frame, the visitors were just able to hold on and force a penalty shootout.

Both goalkeepers made two saves in the opening 5 penalties, with Joel Sangwa and Adem Sipic missing for Huntsville. Then, in the sixth round, Alejandro Velazquez-Lopez missed for Huntsville, and goalkeeper Ben Martino was unable to save his team one last time, handing Orlando the victory, and the extra point for winning the shootout.

Key takeaways

First, let’s talk about the players that were absent. Julian Gaines looked very bright against Chattanooga but missed the squad entirely for Orlando City B. Joey Skinner was once again absent as well.

This left some gaps in the lineup to fill. Maximus Ekk took Gaines’ spot on the right wing, and for the 56 minutes he played, he looked good, especially in his limited time in the second half. With Skinner out, that meant that Fernando Cicerón filled in at left back once again, with Isaiah Jones taking the right back spot again as well.

With the fact Isaiah Jones is a natural midfielder, the move to right back is a bit surprising. The weakest part of his game right now is his passing range, sure, but moving him to be a fullback was unexpected. However, at his young age, minutes are minutes. They all count, regardless of where on the pitch they come from. It will be interesting to follow if this change becomes semi-permanent moving forward.

Brennan Creek came into the lineup for Sergi Oriol, and of course got an assist off a set piece. Scott Cheevers got the start in favor of Chris Applewhite who missed the squad altogether. Cheevers was put one-on-one with an attacker a few times, and won a couple and lost a couple. Again, the same as Isaiah Jones, at that age, any experience is good experience. Cheevers will be off to attend the University of North Carolina next year.

One thing I really liked from Adem Sipić in this game (and the game against Chattanooga to a slightly lesser degree) is something Nashville fans will be all too familiar with Sam Surridge doing. There were multiple occasions where both Sipić and Jonathan Bolaños dropped back, with Bolaños receiving the ball in his own half and sending a through ball down the wing for Sipic to run onto.

Huntsville had a lot of success attacking Orlando’s right back, and with Sipić and Bolaños taking turns receivin the ball in those positions, the entire attack becomes less predictable. This particular threat largely vanished when Ollie Wright was subbed on, pushing Bolaños to the other wing.

Speaking of Wright and Bolaños (toss Isaiah Johnston in here too), their situation fascinates me. Do Ollie Wright, Jonathan Bolaños and Isaiah Johnston have MLS futures with Nashville SC? I’m really unsure, but it does seem apparent all three are better than the vast majority of players at the MLS Next Pro level, and Nashville SC is under an obligation to foster Huntsville City FC as a distinct brand from the first team.

The more self sufficient Huntsville can be, the more money is freed up to spend on the first team. Truthfully, I don’t even want to know how much it costs some teams to open their stadium for the reserves to play in front of no crowd, let alone a situation like, for example, Atlanta, who undoubtedly have to pay for Atlanta United 2 to play in Kennesaw, Georgia instead of Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This is why you’re starting to see more MLS teams detach their reserves from their first team, such as San Jose with “The Town FC” in Oakland, and LA Galaxy with “Ventura County FC” in Thousand Oaks. Huntsville set the example that you can run your reserves in a way that lessens the financial burden for the first team.

Part of making your reserves self sufficient is giving your satellite fanbase players that can attach themselves to that brand, instead of the one in MLS. Ollie Wright alone has been a very visible ambassador for Huntsville City pretty much since day one. So you have to ask yourself ; are he, Bolaños and Johnston more valuable to the organization getting the occasional cameo at GEODIS Park, or putting in Man of the Match type performances at Joe Davis Stadium?

Author: Ronan Briscoeis a contributor for Broadway Sports, and a founding contributor at SoundwaveSoccer.com, where he covers Nashville SC, Huntsville City FC and Nashville's youth academy.

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