Orlando City came from behind to get back to winning ways in a match that was ultimately overshadowed with controversy. This was a night where the rest of MLS decided to take a stand for racial equality, following the merciless and frankly disgusting, attempted murder of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin this week. I want to address the elephant in the room real quick. We should have done better. During MLS Is Back, Orlando City were seen as champions of the BLM movement. And rightly so. On Wednesday evening, we failed to take a stand... By standing.
Luis Nani was the only starter to take a knee pre-game. I'm a huge advocate of freedom of speech. But like with Orlando City defending set-pieces, we should have done better with this in my opinion. Did the other players refrain from taking a knee for fear of getting booed? Maybe. I don't know. My understanding is the game wasn't called off out of respect for fans. Whilst i'm sure I agree with that decision either, I get why they went ahead and played.
The Black Lives Matter movement has never been about disrespecting the national anthem, or anything like that. I think the vast majority of us understand that. Black Lives Matter. That's all I want to say. Now, let's talk soccer.
The players of Orlando City and Nashville SC prior to kick off in Wednesday's game. Photo source, unknown.
This was ultimately a comfortable win for the Lions. Nashville gained a surprise lead from David Romney's first half header. The goal ultimately proved to be little more than a shot in the arm for Orlando City though. Nashville had their chances, in all fairness, but the Lions were dominant for much of the first half and the entirety of the second. Chris Mueller leveled things up before the break, following an excellent team move. Daryl Dike then stole the show in the second half. Orlando moved up to 4th in the Eastern Conference with this win, and will undoubtedly take a huge amount of confidence into their trip to GA on Saturday.
This was much more like it from Oscar Pareja's side. The verve and swagger we had become so accustomed to during MLS Is Back was, well, back. Orlando City passed the ball with purpose and intent. The win wasn't without it's hairy moments however. Rodrigo Schlegel, deputised for Antonio Carlos, who we believe may have been subject to an inconclusive Covid-19 test (this is unconfirmed, of course). He looked fairly solid. Whilst Schlegel himself did OK, defensively, at times, we looked as messy and incoherent as a Star Wars sequel movie. This is becoming something of a worrying trend. Nashville created chances on the break, as we predicted they might, and were profligate in their finishing. A more clinical team would have made us pay. Orlando will need to sharpen up at the back when they face Atlanta this weekend.
Defensive frailties on show again
As previously mentioned, this is becoming something of a worrying theme for Orlando City. The goal was a frustrating one to concede. And the visitors could have had more. Of 16 shots at goal, only 4 were on frame. Woeful finishing was, for once, our friend. There was no woeful finish from Romney in the opening quarter however. Just statuesque defending. You'll notice from looking at the still in figure 1, that Romney is fairly well covered. Romney just jumps higher than anyone else; he wanted it more. Jansson needs to be more aggressive in this scenario. Romney is able to out muscle him and get a head start on his jump. Whilst, we obviously need to stop giving away careless free-kicks, they are always going to be conceded. At least to an extent. We need to get better at defending them, it's that simple.
Figure 1 shows how easily Romney was able to get up and get his head to the ball for the opener.
Possession is 9/10ths of the law
A theme of the MLS Is Back tournament for Orlando City, was the marked improvement they had made in possession the ball. A theme that was conspicuous only in its absence in the loss to Fort Lauderdale. The same cannot be said of Orlando City on Wednesday evening however. This was a confident looking Orlando City; their passing was crisp and purposeful. At times, it was a joy to behold.
Orlando City maintained 61.1% of the possession throughout the 90 with an 87% pass completion rate (figure 1). Of the 422 passes attempted, 286 were forward balls. Aggressive. Orlando were determined to exert their superiority and play on the front foot. They weren't just keeping possession for possession's sake. If they went backwards, it was to go forwards. It's so crucial to play with a certain amount of aggression and dynamism in your passing. Particularly when up against a team like Nashville who are happy to bunker and hit you on the break. You have to move them about and break them down, as Orlando did time and time again.
The difference in the level of passing between Saturday and Wednesday evening was like chalk and cheese. It was purposeful and well executed. The likes of Moutinho and Ruan were still able to bomb on effectively, despite Nashville holding their shape in an attempt to nullify the space both full-backs love to exploit. This was a really positive performance in terms of ball retention and attacking prowess. It was great to watch.
Figure 2 shows how the Lions were able to monopolise the ball during this game.
Whilst it's all well and good getting the ball forward and playing on the front foot, you have to do so with quality. Orlando were able to do that last night. Central to that was Mauricio Pereyra, who looked much more like the player we are all hoping he can be. His through ball for Dike's first goal was exquisite. He is able to get just enough bend on the pass to bamboozle the defender, whilst also giving it enough pace to do most of Dike's work for him. The young striker then finishes with aplomb. It was a great goal.
It wasn't the greatest show of passing on the night though. The interplay on the build-up to the equaliser perfectly epitomises everything I've said so far. It's quick, incisive and intelligent. The hockey assist pass from Pereyra is just ridiculous, and Moutinho does well to dig out the cross for Chris Mueller. Another intriguing facet of this teams performance on the ball against Nashville is how well they mixed up their passing. It wasn't all short and into feet, sometimes they were chipped out to the flanks. It just showed how confident this side is, in maintaining possession.
Another intriguing layer to this performance was how well Orlando City maintained their shape whilst in possession of the ball. There was a clear plan for this game, and it showed. If you take a look at figure 3 you'll see the team's passing network. Note how far up Moutinho and Ruan are; and how much joy they got from those little interchanges between themselves and the likes of Rosell and Pereyra. There are always options for the man on the ball; which is so important in keeping good, offensive, possession.
Figure 3 highlights how well Orlando maintained their shape whilst in possession.
Overall, there's a lot to be happy about with this win. All of the controversy aside of course. We can now start to dream of finally getting the Atlanta curse off of our backs come Saturday tea time. How sweet would that be?
Top player: Daryl Dike looks more and more comfortable in MLS each time he plays
There was much excitement among the supporter base when Orlando City acquired Daryl Dike in the MLS 2020 SuperDraft. The youngster had attracted interest from Europe already, and by the looks of things we have a real player on our hands. Striker has been a problem position for some time now. The injury suffered by Dom Dwyer during MLS Is Back exacerbated the need for Orlando City to acquire a top class striker. The signing of Matheus Aiás from Watford was roundly welcomed by supporters. On this evidence, however, he may find himself hard pressed to earn a place in the team.
Whilst it's undoubtedly important we do not get carried away, the early signs for Daryl Dike are certainly promising. It's 3 goals in 2 games now for the explosive front man. They were real strikers' goals as well. The first is an instinctive finish following Mauricio Pereyra's sublime through-ball. The second is, perhaps, slightly more fortuitous. Junior Urso's header is spilled by Willis in the Nashville goal and Dike finds himself in the right place, at the right time. This goal is all about positioning, and having the wherewithal to anticipate a mistake from the keeper. It's a real poacher's finish. Definitely deserves the start against Atlanta after this showing.
It wasn't just his goals that made him the stand-out player in this game, it's his all-round movement and positioning. If you take a look at figure 4, you will see Dike's heat map. Note how his positioning is predominantly central. With his physicality and pace, this is exactly where you want him. MLS defences will struggle to cope with him. You need only watch the tape from this game, and Saturday's game in Fort Lauderdale, to see what I mean. He has already come across experienced MLS defenders in LGP, Romney and Zimmermann. These are guys who have been around the league a long time, and he bullied them. Plain and simple.
Again, we shouldn't get carried away... but criminy he looks good.
Figure 4 shows Daryl Dike's heat map, note how central his positioning is.
Gallese -6- Could've been a worrisome game for him, given the speculation around his future and Nashville's tendency to strike from range. But dealt with everything he had to do well.
Ruan -7- Got forward into some very dangerous areas, and his final ball was decent as well.
Moutinho -8- Didn't put a foot wrong all night. Delightful cross for the equaliser.
Schlegel -7- Not overly tested, but acquitted himself well.
Jansson -7- Will be upset with himself for the goal, but did OK aside from that.
Rosell -7- The Spaniard continues to highlight his importance to this team. Another assured display.
Mendez -7- Clever ball to Pereyra in the build-up to the first goal. Looked good.
Mueller -8- Much more lively performance in this game. Glad to see him back on the score sheet too.
Pereyra -8- Caused all sorts of problems. Hockey assist and an actual assist.
Nani -8- Looked dangerous, and appeared to enjoy the interplay with Moutinho and Pereyra.
Dike -9- Another standout performance for the youngster. 2 goals. Man of the match.
Urso -7- Unlucky not to get on the score sheet on more than one occasion.
Smith -7- Read the game well to breakdown a counter late on. Could've left us with a nervy finish, but did well.
Miller -6- First outing of the season, but did the job.
Perea -6- Injected a bit of energy, definitely has talent.
Michel -6- Tad fortunate not to see red late on.
All game stills courtesy of mlssoccer.com.