Analysis: Minnesota United. Orlando advances to the MLS Is Back final.
'Feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme, get on up it's MLS Is Back final time!' So goes the famous Cool Runnings quote. Well, sorta. Anyway... Orlando City are through to the final of the MLS Is Back tournament! Oscar Pareja's Lions have defied all the odds to seal their place in Tuesday's showpiece event. The naysayers will say 'oh, it's only the Covid Cup'. Hogwash. Rubbish. Everyone wanted to win this tournament. The prize money and the allure of a CONCACAF Champions League spot are enough to make this tournament one everyone wants to win. And this team are one win away from doing just that.
Last night was the biggest win in Orlando City history. And I do not believe it's too much of a stretch to say that. These are uncharted waters for everyone in MLS. But particularly for Orlando City. A team that has never made the MLS Cup play-offs. A team of perennial also rans, now has the chance to seal passage into Central and Northern America's premier tournament. And they deserve it.
Tactical masterclass from Oscar Pareja
I would argue last night perhaps wasn't our greatest performance, at least in terms of our creativity. Minnesota looked the more threatening team for long periods. But Orlando were by far the deadliest. With a 40% conversion rate compared to the Loon's 5%. This was a lesson in how to take your chances. And Luis Nani was the instructor. But more on that later.
First of all, we need to address another masterful display in tactical awareness and preparedness from this team. I spoke in my pre-match analysis about the danger Minnesota possesses from the flanks, particularly when combined with their ability to soak up pressure and hit teams on the break. Something which was a recurring theme throughout the game. Generally speaking Minnesota are more than happy to allow you to have the ball. So it was surprising to see them have as much possession as they did. The Loons attempted 39 crosses and 431 passes (short and long-see figure 1). By comparison Orlando attempted 8 crosses and 466 passes (short and long).
The dangers posed by Finlay et al, will have been at the forefront of Pareja's mind. Which is why you saw Ruan and Moutinho hold their shape so well, and become more selective about the times they did get forward. They will have been wary about becoming exposed or overloaded in those wide areas. We saw Mendez and Urso do a great job of tucking in and providing extra cover for the full backs, which then allowed Nani and Mueller to maintain more advanced positions for the outball. It was another tactical masterclass from the experienced Pareja.
Figure 1 shows the types of passes being utilised by each team. As we predicted in our preview, Minnesota preferred to get the ball wide and provide crosses into the middle. Something Orlando defended exceptionally well.
Orlando being defensively resolute, whilst still being dangerous themselves in wide areas
A lot has obviously been made of the threat Orlando possess in wide areas. A worry for me, particularly going into this game, was the danger that we could become exposed defensively with the amount we like to bomb on down the flanks. Something I alluded to in my chat with Orlando City UK and the MLS UK show in the run up to this game, was the importance of Rosell and Mendez covering those positions when faced with an overload. And the role they play in closing the space when the two full-backs attack. This was something both did exceptionally well.
The wide players from Minnesota were still able to enjoy a fair amount of the ball out wide, something they are always going to do regardless. But the superb Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson were equal to everything thrown at them. Whilst Ruan and Moutinho were doubtless more conservative in their approach, Ruan still enjoyed some success down the right hand side. Particularly during the first 45. The Brazilian made it to the byline on a number of occasions before firing the ball into dangerous areas.
Figure 2 shows the heatmap movements for Lod, Finlay, Dotson and Gasper versus Orlando's back 4. The attacking dynamism of Moutinho and Ruan was tapered somewhat. But both dealt with Minnesota's widemen well.
If you look at figure 2 you will see how well Orlando's backline maintained their shape against Minnesota's potent wide players. This defensive organisation and solidarity is fast becoming a trademark of this Orlando City squad. Their ability to hold the line well, whilst also timing their own runs forward well, again allowed the Lions to get on the front foot and allow their creative abilities to shine through. It's all moves and counter moves, which allows the odds to be ever in their favour. No, I'm not going to stop dropping movie references. I can't control myself.
The Great Wall of China, Trident, Bunker Hill and Orlando City's back 4. All great defensive institutions.
This team mightn't have kept many clean sheets this tournament (1 so far), but in all honesty there have been very few across the tournament as a whole. But one thing that is certain, is that this defensive unit is performing considerably better than it did in 2019. The addition of Pedro Gallese in goal is undoubtedly a huge factor. The improvement of Antonio Carlos is also a key facet to this teams defensive improvement. The partnership Carlos has with Robin Jansson at the heart of the back 4 has been one of my favourite features of the knockout rounds so far.
This was another fine performance from the pair. Carlos (2 interceptions, 5 clearances) and Jansson (6 clearances) were both outstanding, again reading the game exceptionally well. Even providing avenues for attack by playing the ball out from the back. Another feature of this teams play. I mean, the ball from Jansson for the opener was ridiculous.
The defensive solidarity of this back 4 provides a great springboard for the team to defend from the front. The high press is working exceptionally well. All in all it led to this team attempting 18 tackles, completing 19 clearances and 12 blocks (figure 3). Outstanding defensive performance.
Figure 3 highlights what an outstanding defensive performance this was. Orlando led in tackles attempted, clearances and blocks.
Nani was absolutely superb
Nani showed his class last night and truthfully; he was the real difference maker between the two teams. The touch he showed gathering Jansson's long ball forward was world class. He then used all of his considerable experience to hold off the defender and wait for the precise moment to poke the ball past the goalkeeper. On the night he had 3 shots, with all 3 hitting the target and two hitting the back of the net. He also completed 3 dribbles and played 1 key pass (see figure 4).
His second goal was probably even better. He collects a pass from Sebas Mendez before cutting inside and curling one beyond the reach of the outstretched goalkeeper. Nani now has 3 goals and 3 assists in the tournament overall. A tournament, I hasten to add, where he hasn't always been at his mercurial best. That just shows his quality. He's still been one of the more impactful players in a tournament that has been packed full of quality play.
Figure 4 Nani was in deadly form. Here's how he compared to some of his teammates.
Orlando have a dangerous right flank, but they're no one trick pony.
Figure 5 shows how Orlando were equally proficient tracking down both flanks and through the middle. Options.
A lot has been made of the dangers Chris Mueller and Ruan present to opposing teams down the right hand side, and for good reason. But this team has several weapons to its arsenal. They are just as comfortable playing through the middle, as we saw with the deadly break that led to Benji Michel adding some gloss to the scoreline late on. A vital goal as the Loons threatened a late leveller. And the first two goals obviously came from the left flank. Figure 5 shows just how comfortable Orlando are attacking down both flanks and through the middle.
The former Manchester United man was the difference between the two sides. On his day he's probably the best player in the league, and he showed that in this game. He could well be the first Orlando City captain, in the MLS era, to lift silverware with the club. And you have to say, this team probably doesn't make it this far without him. Talisman.
Pedro Gallese -7- El Pulpo was his usual, reliable self. Couple of key saves late on.
Ruan -7- Fast becoming one of the best full-backs in MLS.
Carlos -8- Gets better and better each game he plays. Superb.
Jansson -8- Delightful lobbed pass for the opener. If Sergio Ramos had played that ball it would be replayed globally for weeks. Man mountain at the back.
Moutinho -7- Dealt with Finlay really well, and had some really impressive touches in the final third.
Mendez -7- Broke up play well, lovely chipped pass for the second goal. Has surely done enough to earn a start in the final.
Rosell -8- Got about really well. Some superb ball recoveries.
Nani -9- World class goals. Nothing more your honour.
Pereyra -7- Struggled at times, but still had some classy touches.
Mueller -7- Industrious as ever.
Akindele -6- Quiet but led the line well.
Urso -7- Looked lively, great ball for the third goal.
Michel -8- Showed why he's better as a centre forward than a winger. Wonderful composure to best Miller 1 v 1.
Schlegel -6- Came in late. City will be hoping Jansson's injury isn't serious.
Perea -6- Brought in to see the game out. Did just that.
Smith -6- Came in very late. Solid as ever.
All statistics provided courtesy of whoscored.com