Analysis: LAFC. LAFC pay the penalty as Orlando City march on.
As an Englishman, seeing my team win a penalty shoot-out is quite a rare phenomenon. Penalty shoot-outs generally just make me think of Gareth Southgate at Euro 96, or Steven Gerrard and Ashley Cole (amongst others) vs Portugal in 2004 and 2006. We English just don't generally have very fond memories of shoot-outs. So, I could probably be forgiven for hiding behind my sofa at 2.20 this morning. Especially when you consider we'd already missed one during the 90 (more on that later). But somehow, we did it. To paraphrase Dr. Ian Malcolm, 'Orlando, you did it. you crazy son of a bitch, you did it.' Orlando City march on to the semi-finals, where they could face Adrian Heath's Minnesota United. That is, if Inchy and co. are able to best the ever-unpredictable San Jose Earthquakes.
Regular readers will know that my analyses are generally quite statistical in their focus, and that won't change today. Statistics and percentages are a large part of the sport these days. But there is one attribute of this team, that simply cannot be measured in metrics or percentages. Sheer mental fortitude, and the ability to never know when you are beaten. This team does not know when it is beaten. And last night they showed that. It would have been so easy for Orlando to, at 0-1, with only a few minutes left on the clock, to throw in the proverbial towel and chalk it up to experience. But that just isn't in their make-up.
Counteracting the high press
Orlando were the better team throughout the match, and the stats back that up. Orlando City played aggressively, on the front foot. The best form of defence, is often a swift and decisive offence after all (Star Wars refernece klaxon). Orlando knew that the way to break this LAFC team down was to beat their high press. Head coach Oscar Pareja named an unchanged side from the win over the Impact, in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. This formation is actually really well suited to countering a high press, such as that favoured by LAFC. It is especially effective if you have two defensive midfielders who are comfortable on the ball, such as Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez.
What the 4-2-3-1 does, is it opens up more passing lanes for your two central defenders. So whenever Bradley Wright Phillips and co. were pushing up on Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos they had out-balls in the form of Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez. They weren't being forced to kick it long all of the time, though with Carlos' and Janssons' skill in that area, it was always an option (see figure 2).
Now, if you take a moment to study figure 1, you'll notice that Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez were often positioned directly in front of the 18-yard line. They were always available for a pass, and were generally rather effective when on the ball. Mendez had a 93% pass completion rate from 43 passes and Uri had a 78.7 % pass completion rate from 47 attempts. Once they had played through LAFC's front 3 press, they were then able to turn and get the ball to the likes of Nani and Mauricio Pereyra, who would then try and get the team on the offensive.
Figure 1 shows a heatmap highlighting Uri Rosell's and Sebas Mendez's positioning in front of the back 4. Their positioning opened up passing lanes for Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson. An effective counter to LAFC's high press.
Figure 2 shows passing metrics for both Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson, both were able to go short to the 2 DM's or longer to those in forward positions.
Orlando playing on the offensive. Who are this team, and what have they done with the real Orlando City?
One of the things I love most about this team is we don't play for a draw. We don't play with the mind-set of just avoiding defeat, whilst simultaneously panicking about what the opposition might do to us. We make the opposition worry about what we might do to them. Figure 3 shows the passing channels Orlando used during this game, a game where Orlando out-shot (18-7), out-passed (52.2% possession with a 77% pass completion rate) and out-dribbled (15-7) their supposedly more creative opponents. They played a lot of football in the opposing third. Here in the U.K. the Sky Sports commentary team scoffed at Oscar Pareja's remarks that LAFC would need to match Orlando's creativity. The stats say it all. It's such a departure form what we've become used to, and i'm loving every moment of it.
Still, despite their dominance, Orlando found themselves behind down the stretch. A well taken goal from BWP, following a rare lapse in concentration at the back, followed on from Luis Nani's missed penalty. A chance that Orlando thankfully weren't ruing come the end of the night...
Figure 3 shows the passing avenues utilised by Orlando throughout the game. The team were able to keep possession well, and stay on the front foot.
Luis Nani and penalty kicks; a double sided coin
It was such a bizarre situation to be in last night, with our DP and biggest name needing to convert the spot-kick to send us through... I was incredibly nervous, and not entirely sure of our talismanic skipper and his ability to get the job done. On the one hand, in a pressure situation like that you want a guy who has played at the very highest level taking that kick. He's scored penalties in crucial games for some of the world's biggest clubs. But, on the other, his record from 12 yards in MLS is spotty at best. He's missed 3 and scored 3. With one of the misses being last night. Would he go the same way? would he mix it up? I was really concerned. Thankfully the Portuguese tucked it away with aplomb. It does beg the question though; does he stay on penalty kicks? In my opinion, that's open for debate...
Play it short or go long? You can do both....
It's clear to see, just from glancing at LAFC's team that they have an abundance of talent in the middle who can really dictate and dominate the ball. Eduard Atuesta, Latif Blessing and Mark-Anthony Kaye are full of class. I think many Orlando City fans were prepared to see us not have a whole lot of the ball, which is something that never really materialised. And that's down to two things.
Firstly, the way Oscar Pareja set the team up with the 2 defensive midfielders and the 3 attacking forwards in support of Tesho up top. Not only does this formation allow us to play through a high press with a mixture of short and long passes (figure 5), but it also allows us to play between the lines and dominate the ball in the final third. This allowed us to establish a strong foothold in the game, where we able to assert our authority in all areas (see figure 4).
Secondly, it's down to the individual ability and decision making from the players entrusted with the task of executing the plan. We have seen a complete buy-in from this team to Oscar Pareja's ideals and philosophies. They go into a game with full confidence that his plan will work, and they use their own particular skills and experiences to ensure the plan goes without a hitch.
Figure 4 shows how Orlando outperformed LAFC pretty much all over the park.
Figure 5 shows how Orlando were able to play the ball short, and go long. Which they were able to do with some degree of success all night.
Limiting their chances
Coming into this game, many Orlando City fans were genuinely fearful that this LAFC team could tear us apart. Myself included. They have the potential to rip anyone to shreds on any given day, even in the absence of Carlos Vela. That being said, in all honesty, they never really got the chance to do that last night. I thought Carlos and Jansson were superb in reading the game, and nullifying attacks before they ever even got off the ground.
Aside from one disallowed goal from BWP; LAFC didn't register a shot on frame in the first half (see figure 6). It wasn't until the 60th minute that they finally did as BWP made no mistake turning in, the uncharacteristically quiet, Diego Rossi's low cross. Jordan Harvey went close, and Pedro Gallese had to make a smart double save late on. Aside from that, however, LAFC offered very little going forward.
Figure 6 shows how LAFC never really troubled Gallese till much later in the game (bottom metric shows when shots were taken with the far most left line being the 1st minute).
I've said a few times now that I don't think Orlando can win this tournament. I was dead certain it would be either LAFC or Seattle. Now both have gone home, it's anyone's game. Once you get to the semi-final stage anything can happen. Winning has to be the aim now. And you have to say, Walt Disney World really will be the happiest place on earth if Orlando can pull this off.
I know it might seem strange to pick a goal keeper as the key player in this game, given that LAFC never really troubled us until late on. But if he doesn't make the acute double save he makes to deny Rossi we simply aren't dreaming of another semi-final. Crucial stop at such an important time.
Gallese -7- Didn't have a whole lot to do until late on. Made some crucial stops to keep the score at 0-1.
Ruan -7- Got up and down the line well as per. Clever run to win the penalty.
Carlos -8- Gets better and better with every game.
Jansson -8- He and Carlos were superb. Both read the game so well, and won everything in the air.
Moutinho -7- Solid game, capped off with an excellent goal and penalty in the shootout.
Mendez -7- Was always available for a pass. Decision making questionable at times, but still. He played well.
Rosell -7- Never hit the heights of the last game, but was always available for a pass from the back 4. This was crucial in countering their high press.
Nani -6- Thought he was poor through the first 80 minutes, but seemed to come to life down the stretch. Will take the headlines with the winning pen.
Pereyra -6- Excellent pen in the shootout and got into some good areas. But was inconsistent all evening.
Mueller -7- Thought he played really well, typical direct self. Just unfortunate to get the injury. Off at half-time.
Akindele -7- Led the line well, but never really had a sight at goal.
Dike -6- Bullish cameo. Looked lively, which is all you can ask for.
Smith -7- Was dependable, and took an excellent penalty.
Perea -6- Lively, but final ball lacking.
Patino -6- Came in late, decent hold up play and a few clever touches.
Michel -6- I prefer him down the middle, but was full of running as per.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com