Whilst watching this game, one thing became patently obvious to me; Orlando City without Mauricio Pereyra is an entirely different team to Orlando City with Mauricio Pereyra. If there was ever a game to underline the Uruguayan's importance to this team, this was it! And he wasn't even playing!
Orlando were toothless in attack. It was clear that Orlando lacked the ability to break lines in the opponents defensive third. Mauricio leads the league in line breaking passes with 39. He was a huge miss.
During this game Orlando were shifting the ball from left to right, but there was no penetration at all. Everything was being played in front of the Cincinnati defence, which they'll have been pleased with. Orlando toiled in Cincinnati. Orlando never really threatened to break down the orange and blue's stubborn resistance.
The Mauricio Pereyra paradox
Towards the end of last season, a common criticism of Orlando City pertained to captain Luis Nani. Teams were finding, all too often, that if they shut down the former Manchester United man, they shut down Orlando's attack. The same has been happening to Mauricio Pereyra this season, in terms of the fact teams are targeting the Uruguayan playmaker, denying him time and space on the ball. The problem, at least as far as opposing teams are concerned, has been that he's just been too bloody good to stop. He's been in sensational form this season. We missed him badly in Ohio.
Oscar Pareja told me, in the post match press conference, that he doesn't expect Pereyra to be out for long, although he was coy on giving a precise timescale before the team had, had time to appropriately assess the injury. This was music to my ears.
We just aren't the same team without him. For me, a matter of priority has to be finding a suitable back-up/replacement. There was just no penetration in central areas. Everything was being played in front of the Cincinnati backline, which was very comfortable for them. Oftentimes, Cincy were just holding their lines, knowing full well that a Pereyra-less Orlando City wouldn't be able to break them down. Instead, Orlando just end up passing the ball from left to right (figures 1, 2 & 3), before working the ball into the area, which was often meat and drink for Nick Hagglund and the likes. The Lions created nothing. They lacked the ability to.
Figure 1 is a game still from the first half.
Figure 2 is a game still from the first half.
Figure 3 is a game still from the first half.
Ultimately this led to Orlando having quite high possession statistics (54%), but that means nothing if you're not doing anything with it. There were only 7 key passes, none of which were in particularly dangerous areas (figure 4). Orlando just didn't look like doing anything, and it left you with this feeling of 'I can't wait for this to be over'. It was like watching WandaVision all over again. Orlando City could still be playing now and they wouldn't have had a meaningful effort at goal.
I think the absence of Mauricio Pereyra was the crux of Orlando's problems. I had no issues with the line-up, the shape or even any particular performances. We just didn't have anyone capable of breaking lines. Pereyra causes problems with his very presence, let alone his passing ability. He draws opposing players out of position because they know what he's capable of, so they try to nullify the space he has to operate in. Cincy never had that problem, so they said 'OK, we're going to stand off of you, because we know, if we keep our shape, you don't have the ability to play through us'. They actually came off second best in the defensive duel statistics despite having less of the ball (figure 5). They didn't need to win back possession because they knew we weren't going anywhere with it. And when we inevitably played ourselves into a dead end, then they'd get the ball back and start thinking about moving up the field.
Figure 4 shows Orlando's (blue) key pass positioning matrix, versus Cincinnati's.
Figure 5 shows Orlando's (right) duelling success statistics.
The Peruvian shot stopper came up big for the second consecutive week. Unfortunately for Orlando, Gallese was not able to prevent the Lions from falling to another defeat against FC Cincinnati. The former Veracruz goalkeeper faced 8 shots in total, making 7 saves; all of which were very good ones. Orlando just didn't control the game well, and Cincy weren't afraid to get shots off. His xGOT score was 1.64, which indicates he should've conceded 1 or 2 more than what he did. I'm not convinced his xGOT score is a fair reflection of his performance. Cincy would've, deservedly, won this game comfortably if not for El Pulpo's heroics.
Gallese -9- Star man.
Williams -7- Shoe horned in at the last second. Acquitted himself well, considering he was out of position too.
Schlegel -7- Reasonable performance. It's hard to be too harsh on the backline under the circumstances.
Smith -8- Played very well at centre-back.
Ruan -6- Touch was off, offered little.
Urso -6- Was surprisingly pedestrian in the midfield.
Araujo -7- Wasn't afraid to get stuck in, as usual.
Torres -6- Had nothing to work off.
Perea -7- Had a decent enough game defensively. Doesn't add anything on the offensive side.
Mulraney -6- Largely anonymous.
Kara -5- Fed off scraps.
Antonio Carlos -7- It's soooo good to have him back.
Michel -6- Offered nothing.
Pato -6- Why don't we play him? Needs minutes.
Akindele -6- Similar to Kara, nothing to work off.
Head Coach Oscar Pareja:
“I thought it was a game full of inconveniences for us, from warm ups with the need to changes players and things that needed to adapt from our game plan. But with the situation I thought we had a decent first half where we tried to control the ball but not much ambition going forward. But we controlled the ball going forward. In the second half, I thought our roles changed. Cincinnati started having more of the ball and then after the goal we found the reaction needed to be earlier from us and it was not much up front. Again, it was not a superiority from either team. It was a game that could go either way and it ended up just going their way.”
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com
Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando City SC.
B-roll footage and media availability footage courtesy of Orlando City SC.