Analysis: Inter Miami (a). Late Nani goal secures purple bragging rights in the bleachers.
What a great week for Orlando City. The Lions really underlined their MLS Cup and Supporters Shield ambitions, by taking 9 points from Toronto, San Jose and Fort Lauderdale. Which is no easy feat. OK, maybe San Jose wasn't THAT difficult. Anyway, they've also gone some way towards allaying their goal scoring concerns, with 10 goals shared among multiple scorers, in their last 3 games. Whilst Orlando will be disappointed not to keep a clean sheet, Gonzalo Higuain's strike provided Orlando will another chance to showcase their mental toughness. Previous Orlando City teams will have rolled over and passively allow the opposition to run away with things. Not this team. No. This team doesn't know when it's beaten.
In Fort Lauderdale, Orlando almost played as the home team for long periods of the game. Oscar Pareja's team seemed to knock the ball around with a confidence born out of their form so far this season. They mightn't have made it all click; it wasn't vintage Orlando throughout the first half, but Orlando definitely seemed the braver of the two teams. Fort Lauderdale battled, but they look a team bereft of confidence and ideas. The Lions also matched Fort Lauderdale physically, which was always going to be key. Orlando are a better team than Beckham FC; that's not me being facetious, it's just a fact. So, as long as they won the physical battle, Orlando were always going to have a chance at all 3 points.
Orlando's quality in wide areas
This game may not have been Silvester Van Der Water's greatest but, paradoxically, that sort of highlights the depth of quality Orlando possess in that department. When someone isn't at their best, there's always somebody else to come in and provide fresh impetus. Which is exactly what happened with Chris Mueller. The USMNT forward took his goal confidently, and was unlucky not to have at least one more. Mueller moved to 1 goal and 4 assists on the season (figure 1). With 2 of those assists coming in his last 3, there's been a considerable uptick in recent weeks. His goal was a top-drawer finish, it's so easy to blow those sort of chances. The finish was indicative of his new found confidence. The chance had an XG rating of 30.69%, and with good reason. When a ball comes at pace, off the deck like that, it's so easy to lean back too far and volley it over. Mueller keeps his head over the ball and applies a precision finish. How many other MLS squads have the qualities of Mueller and Van Der Water, on the right flank. Not too many I'd wager.
Figure 1 shows Chris Mueller's goal contributions for the season so far.
As much quality as there is on the right, it's clear that the main man can be found on the other flank. Luis Nani has been absolutely outstanding so far this season. He's currently launching a sustained assault on the MLS MVP award; he's currently ranked 3rd in overall statistics by mlssoccer.com. Nani was a constant menace, and seemed to cause even more trouble when he moved centrally. He seemed to be given more of a free role; Blaise Matuidi and co. had particular trouble in terms of tracking his movements (figure 2). The Portuguese then used his freedom to win the game for Orlando with an assist and a goal.
Nani moving centrally gave Benji Michel a chance to showcase his talent and pace on the left-flank. There's no significant drop-off in terms of quality or effectiveness when Orlando rotate up front. Though, admittedly, everyone brings something new to the table. Benji might not have Nani's close control and technical ability, but he has bags of pace and finishing ability. There's quality all over this frontline, and that was clear for all to see on Friday evening.
Figure 2 shows Nani's heatmap, whole 90.
Solid display for Michael Halliday
Whilst this wasn't an outstanding display from the young defender, it was solid. No frills. In difficult circumstances too, especially for one so inexperienced. Halliday won 2 tackles, completed 1 interception and made a further 3 clearances. He also posted an overall pass completion rate of 74.1% from 27 passes. In only his 3rd MLS appearance, the youngster acquitted himself well. Especially when you consider the intensity and profile of this game. Derbies are never easy, at the best of times. But to slot right in, against your local rivals, and an experienced campaigner like Brek Shea... It's not easy to do. His attacking play needs to be a bit sharper, though. That being said he seems to be a 'defend first type of guy'. I think he can be pleased with his performance overall.
Is Andres Perea's and Junior Urso's partnership one of the best in the East?
It might seem a lofty statement to some, but I think there's an argument to be made here. I really do. Now, I'm not saying they are the best midfield partnership in the Eastern conference. I'm simply saying there's an argument to be made. Both players have had busy weeks, and have maintained a consistent level of performance throughout. Against Fort Lauderdale, Perea and Urso completed 91.2% and 81.4%, respectively, of the 111 passes they made between them (figure 3). Having central midfielders that recycle possession well helps you to establish a foothold and dictate the ebb and flow of the game a bit more. Perea has an 88.2% pass completion rate on the season, likewise Urso has an 85.2% success rate. By comparison Matt Polster and Tommy McNamara of the New England Revolution boast an 87.9% and 84.3% pass success rate, respectively. Obviously there is more to midfield play than passing the ball, but as I said; there's an argument there.
Figure 3 shows the possession based statistics for Perea and Urso, as well as the back 5's.
Nani was, again, central to Orlando City's latest victory. His 8.61 rating on whoscored.com is indicative of how well he performed. He seemed to impact the game more, once he moved to a central position. This gave him the freedom to roam from left to right, knowing that Perea and Urso were there to cover in the middle. With 5 shots, and 2 goals, Nani made 40% of the shots he took. He's clearly taken note of Michael Scott's advice; afterall, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. With 6 goals and 3 assists on the season, he's averaging 0.8 goals per game, and 0.4 assists. In addition to his assist for Chris Mueller, the erstwhile Manchester United player played 2 key passes. His winning goal was the sort of hit that could grace any occasion. Wonderful strike.
Austin -7- Another fairly solid game for the Tottenham Hotspur loanee. Positioning was slightly off for the goal, but that's me being hypercritical to be honest.
Smith -7- Moved across to left-back again, for this game. Lewis Morgan struggled to get the better of him.
Jansson -7- Seemed a bit leggy at times, which is hardly surprising, considering the amount of football he's played lately. Absolute peach of a pass for Nani, though. I love their combo play.
Antonio Carlos -7- Solid display but, much like Jansson, seemed tired at times.
Halliday -7- Acquitted himself well defensively, very mature performance. Needs to work on his final ball, going forward.
Perea -7- Got around the pitch really well, fast becoming one of the first names on the team sheet.
Urso -7- Seemed fatigued towards the end, but still played the ball well. Should've done better for the goal, though.
Nani -8- His personal battle with Garles Gil for the MLS MVP is a big part of Orlando's outstanding season so far.
Van Der Water -6- Not his best game, but still made some good runs. Hauled at the half.
Pereyra -6- Not his usual self, but has been struggling with an injury. Off at the break.
Dike -6- Aside from a superb volleyed pass for VDW he was fairly quiet, but still put the Fort Lauderdale defence under pressure with his hustle.
Mueller -7- Ran well, and finished his goal with aplomb. Seemed more like 2020 Chris Mueller in this game.
DeZart -6- Provided fresh legs to see the game out.
Michel -7- Made some good runs, the game against San Jose seems to have really boosted him.
Akindele -6- Didn't get too much of a kick but put himself about.
Rosell -6- Helped the team recycle possession in midfield.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com and mlssoccer.com