• Dan Berridge

Analysis: CF Montréal (h). Orlando Downs Montréal 2-0, to get 2022 Off To A Flyer.

Excitement levels were at fever pitch for this game, particularly this side of the pond. As myself and the rest of Orlando City UK settled in front of our TVs, there was a tangible feeling of optimism permeating through our ranks. And, to be perfectly honest, the first half did absolutely nothing to justify the excitement we were all feeling. Well, maybe that's a little harsh. There were certainly flashes, from Facundo Torres in particular. But, overall it was somewhat disjointed. There needed to be an improvement in the second period.


It was certainly a turgid affair during the opening 45 minutes. The game had the feeling of a season opener, as Oscar Pareja's team seemed somewhat fragmented. But that's to be expected at this point in the season. The game certainly improved as time went on, however. There was a marked improvement after the interval.


It might seem as though I'm being overly critical of the team's first half performance here. But expectations are high. There were flashes of brilliance from Facundo Torres and Alexandre Pato. Cesar Araujo certainly looked assured. It wasn't a totally disastrous first half, but it was far from perfect.


The second half, however, was much better. There was a greater pinache and verve to their play. The team passed the ball around with confidence, and were patient in their approach. For me, that was one of the most encouraging things about the second 45...


Patient build up


At times last season, the chemistry wasn't quite there. Even the most fervent Orlando City die-hard would struggle to argue otherwise. There were tentative signs, during the second half of this game, that this could be about to change as we head into the 2022 season. The first goal is the perfect example of this.


Orlando were patient in the build-up to the goal, stroking the ball around confidently. There were 13 passes in total, starting with the roll-out from Pedro Gallese and culminating with the pull-back from Ruan. Look at the clip in figure 1, and note how confidently Orlando move the ball. Particularly between lines. The players play little triangles to bypass the Montréal press, which allows them to cleverly move the ball down the right flank. It was a tremendous team goal.

Figure 1 shows a clip of Pato's goal, courtesy of Matt Doyle of MLSsoccer.com


Strikers, scoring goals?


Not a totally bizarre concept for the average soccer fan, but not something Orlando City fans take for granted either. In 2021, the now departed Daryl Dike was the only Orlando City striker to consistently find the net. And he was missing for much of the season. Whilst I admit, Benji Michel didn't technically play as a striker in this match, you catch my drift. And, besides he might as well have done.


I actually thought Benji's performance was interesting in that regard. He started from the left, but actually came inside a fair bit and was almost operating as a second striker. His heatmap (figure 2) for the game, shows how often Benji wandered into central areas. It's something he did to great effect, particularly for his goal (figure 3). I have always felt his best position is through the middle; he's one of the best finishers on the roster, his FM 22 finishing rating of 12/20 is actually a little harsh.


Orlando aren't a team that operate with wingers, at least in the traditional sense. Their wingers tend to operate more as inside forwards. It's something we saw Nani and Chris Mueller do a lot last season. Both players would occupy the 'half space' (inside, between the central and wide areas) and allow the full-backs to go on the overlap. This is something we also see with the Pato goal (figure 4), and is something I expect to continue to be a feature of our play this year.

Figure 2 shows Benji Michel's heatmap, whole 90.

Figure 3 is a clip showing Orlando's second goal, courtesy of MLS.

Figure 4 is a game still from just before the 1st goal.


Solid foundations


Defensively speaking, Robin Jansson's little mishap aside, there was a lot to be pleased with. I liked the shape of the team from a defensive standpoint. I felt Cesar Araujo gave us a little extra bite in midfield. He generally got around the pitch well, and made a few key defensive plays (figure 5). Araujo completed 2 interceptions and completed 88.5% of his passes. Which is exactly what you want from a defensive midfielder; the ability to break up play and get the chains moving. He also provided decent cover between the full-backs and midfield, in that crucial half space during moments of defensive transition. Solid debut for the Uruguayan.

Figure 5 shows Cesar Araujo's heatmap, whole 90.


I also liked positioning of the two centre backs. Antonio Carlos was at his imperious best; 1 tackle, 2 interceptions and 9 clearances. Both Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson were in sync, when one moved towards the ball the other would drop in, as cover (figure 6). Unfortunately, this still is from just prior to the sending off for Orlando, but it's a good example of what I am talking about, regardless. It's just a poor challenge, but look past that.


We'll certainly face sterner opposition this season, but there are certainly plenty of reasons to be cheerful in the wake of this game.

Figure 6 is a game still from just prior to Robin Jansson's red card.

Top player


Alexandre Pato

Who else, but the former Chelsea and AC Milan striker? It's been a difficult road for the Brazilian so far at Orlando City, but his performance on Sunday gave us a timely reminder of his immense quality. Pato had 3 shots, 2 on target, made 2 key passes and scored 1 goal. His movement was excellent, and there were very encouraging signs of a chemistry between himself, Michel and Torres. Pato could destroy MLS if he stays fit. That will be the biggest test, however.


Player ratings


Starting XI


Gallese -7- Fairly quiet afternoon for the Peruvian, but was stellar whenever called upon.


Ruan -8- Excellent assist for the opener. Got up and down the flank well all game.

Moutinho -7- Solid game for the left-back.

Antonio Carlos -7- Positioning was excellent. Seemed a little miffed at Jansson for the sending off, which is indicative of the high standards this team holds itself too.

Jansson -7- Solid game, but silly dismissal.


Araujo -7- Broke up play well and recycled possession.

Perea -6- Not his greatest half of football.

Pereyra -7- Very positive performance for the new skipper.


Michel -8- Really came alive after half-time. His movement was excellent.

Pato -8- Moved well throughout the game and took his goal with aplomb.

Torres -8- Looked to be a class act. Will get better too.


Substitutes


Urso -8- It's not overselling it to say he changed the game. We had greater penetration when he came in.

Van Der Water -6- Looked a little off the boil.

Kara -7- That touch...

Mendez -7- Helped to see the game out.

Schlegel -7- Will probably get to start in Chicago.


Reaction


Orlando City head coach, Oscar Pareja:


“It’s a great moment to recognize the importance of the energy of the people. The players were talking about it in the locker room and I want to be generous with the fans. They helped us a lot today in a difficult moment, so giving them these three points is very important. I thought we played against a very good team [today]. Montréal has been in competition earlier than everybody else and we found that to be a difficulty, but we matched that and ended up scoring goals and being precise where we had to. At the end, the game became messy, but I thought we had the maturity to deal with it and bring these three points to the people. We’re happy with this start.”

*Player images courtesy of Orlando City SC. All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com

Game stills courtesy of MLSsoccer.com