Analysis: Houston Dynamo (h). Houston, You Have A Problem.
Sometimes, in soccer, you have to win the physical battle in order to earn the right to play. This was less of a battle and more of an assault from the Houston Dynamo contingent. Houston were constantly snapping at the Orlando City players. They seed determined to ensure the game was as tempestuous as possible. The Lions managed the visitors' physicality well during a frenetic first half. Not so well after the interval though...
Orlando City are, by some considerable distance, the most fouled team in MLS. You have to wonder, are teams trying to get under the Lion's skin? It's no secret that Orlando's on-field discipline is poor. It certainly seemed like that was what Houston were trying to achieve, particularly in the first half, where the Dynamo picked up 5 yellows off of 11 fouls.
If we're being honest, though. Orlando were lucky to win that game in the end. Some key saves from Pedro Gallese, as well as some solid refereeing calls (what!?)... I was going to skirt over that, but I'd be remiss not to point out my surprise. They got the calls right. Particularly both penalty calls and the offside goal from Darwin Quintero. It was as shocking to me as the opening sequence of Kenobi this week. Seriously.
fact has a myriad of benefits for Orlando City. The Uruguayan playmaker navigates between the lines exceptionally well, and is a hugely important cog in the Orlando City midfield. He's also one of the main reasons Orlando's pass completion rates have been so solid in recent weeks (84% on Saturday). He takes up some excellent positions, particularly in an attacking sense (figures 1, 2 & 3). Orlando's forwards then know they can make the appropriate runs and he will likely find them.
Pereyra also plays a vitally important role in recycling possession. He covered so much ground against Houston (figure 4). He was often picking the ball up in deep positions and spreading the play to both wings. He didn't play many percentage passes, a lot of his passes were riskier efforts; of his completed passes, 5 were key passes (figure 5) and 35 were in the opposing half of the field (figure 6). He's ballin'right now.
Pereyra is the glue that's holding this team together right now. The likes of Facundo Torres and Ercan Kara know they can make the runs and that Mauricio will find them, which gives them confidence and the ability to create goal scoring chances.
Figure 1 shows 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.
Figure 4 shows Mauricio Pereyra's heatmap, whole 90.
Figure 5 shows Mauricio Pereyra's key pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Figure 6 shows Mauricio Pereyra's pass positioning matrix, whole 90.
Second half drop off
The drop-off was alarming to say the least. Ercan Kara's second goal should've been the 'and still' moment. Orlando switched off and failed to stop the cross for Sebastián Ferreira, who duly halved the deficit. After the goal, the game just seemed to turn in Houston's favour. Orlando's previously excellent passing dropped off significantly as the visitors seemed to smell blood, and Orlando began to needlessly concede possession (figures 7 & 8).
It was almost as if Orlando suddenly lost a bit of belief. You have to wonder if their poor home record played on their minds a little? After the goal, Orlando found it particularly difficult to play out from the back. There was a serious decline in the quality of their passing, which led to Pedro Gallese going long a little more often, not that the Orlando forwards seemed to be able to make the ball stick. The pressure was pretty relentless in the end. And as I've already alluded to, Houston probably deserved at least a point on the balance of play after the goal. Orlando saw it through though and claimed a vital 3 points.
Figure 7 shows Orlando's individual pass success rates after Houston's goal.
Figure 8 shows Houston's individual pass success rates after their goal.
A somewhat serendipitous choice in a lot of ways, particularly when you consider Ercan Kara scored his maiden brace in MLS. But, given how the second half of this game transpired, Orlando City can thank El Pulpo for this valuable victory. Gallese made 4 saves overall, including vital ones on Tyler Pasher and Thorleif Ulfarsson in the second 45. He had no chance with Houston's goal, as his xGOT of 0.96 would attest too. We won't talk about his 'nearly a red card, caught in no man's land, moment'. Nope.
He was in imperious form in the second half. The only reason Orlando holds on, is because of the Peruvian.
Gallese -9- Won us the game in the end.
Ruan -7- Full of running but reneged on his final ball.
Jansson -7- Performed well but is now unnecessarily suspended. Again.
Smith -7- Did a job at centre back.
Moutinho -8- First touch was great on the night.
Araujo -7- Did a great job covering the back 4.
Urso -8- Passed the ball well.
Torres -8- Great assist for Kara's first.
Pereyra -9- Was so classy.
Mulraney -7- Put a few decent balls in
Kara -9- First MLS brace.
Pato -7- Few late touches of class.
Akindele -6- Didn't really get a kick.
Mendez -7- Missed a late chance to kill it.
Perea -7- Provided some fresh legs in midfield.
Michel -7- Full of running.
Head Coach Oscar Pareja: “[It was] a very important victory. Great first half and we saw a lot of things that are natural with this team, but today I thought we improved sequences in the quality. We kept saying that we have to be more polished and finish the games. Second half I have to recognize that Houston pushed and made us defend much lower than we wanted and then we end up with emergencies and urges in a game that could have been defined earlier. That taste of not having a complete game is probably what we have right now, but I have to recognize also that the players gave a great effort in New England in the middle of the week. That is what makes this victory even better. This is good along with the point in New England too, so we will keep going.”
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com and whoscored.com.
Cover image and top player image courtesy of Orlando City SC.
B-roll and post match media availability footage courtesy of Orlando City SC.