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  • Writer's pictureDan Berridge

Analysis: MLS Is Back final, Portland Timbers. Portland comes up clutch as Orlando falter.

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

An evening that initially promised so much ended in heartbreak for Orlando City. As disappointing as the defeat is on the face of it, there is plenty to be positive about. Oscar Pareja's team probably never really hit the heights during a frenetic and otherwise enthralling encounter in which they finally succumbed to a 1-2 defeat. This is a club that has never really even looked like making the play-offs, so for this reason alone we should be immensely proud of this team. As I know we all are. The transformation from last season has been remarkable.

After a final defeat, it's sometimes quite easy to wallow in one's own self-pity. Particularly for us, as fans. I think we were all dreaming of CONCACAF Champions League football. Ultimately we came up short against a Portland Timbers side that are much more experienced in the latter stages of competitions than we are. Nani and Gallese aside, this is a team that has precious little experience in terms of competing in semi-finals and finals. And that experience was perhaps evident throughout the evening, but especially so during the final third of the game.

Orlando's possession of the ball and what they did, or rather didn't do, with it

This was a tight fought game, and despite being nowhere near their best, you can probably argue Orlando City were just about the better team. Without playing particularly well. This is an argument that the statistics back up. Orlando maintained 63.8% (figure 1) of the possession whilst taking 14 shots on goal. Only 1 of which being on target. Orlando led in passes (502 to 286), tackles attempted (15) and touches (656 to 444-see figure 2). All of this with an 89% pass completion rate. Oscar Pareja's team again emphasised just how drastic their improvement has been, particularly when in possession of the ball. This is a team that is comfortable in possession of the football. Orlando City teams of the past have often passed the ball around as if it's a hot potatoe. This team are much more sure of themselves.

The statistic that will probably worry Oscar Pareja the most will be the fact that we only had one shot on frame during the entire match. The team often got into promising areas, but the final ball and finish were often lacking. I suggest a new strategy R2; make the goalkeeper do some work next time.

Whilst I steadfastly maintain that Tesho Akindele is a good player at this level, and I do believe he is very useful, he simply isn't a starting calibre striker. His off the ball movement is very clever, but it's not intense enough. That might seem a strange thing to say, but I'll explain.Akindele doesn't play off the shoulder of the last defender and really make them sweat. And that's not a criticism, although it may sound like it. He just isn't that sort of player.

As a result, when playing a team like Portland, who are happy to let you control possession; you're playing all of your football in front of their back four. And so you're relying on the likes of Nani and Pereyra to pull something out of the bag a little more often. Tesho is the sort of player who likes to drop deep and play give and goes with the attacking midfielders. Which can be very effective, but it becomes very easy to defend against if that's all you do. For me the acquisition of an MLS starting calibre striker is a must for this team.

If you study figure 3 you will see that Tesho only had 25 touches of the ball during the entire game. That's not enough. And of those 25 touches the vast majority came outside of the penalty area, and in front of the Portland back four. It all became a bit monotonous really, in that regard. Predictable, even. Again, I don't want to seem like i'm bashing Tesho. He's a good player at this level, but he's just not the sort of player who is going to haul you into MLS Cup finals. And I think this team needs that sort of player in order to make the most of the possession they enjoy.

Figure 1 Orlando had more of the ball, and also had a higher pass completion rate.

Figure 2 Orlando led in shots attempted, passes attempted, tackles attempted, aeerial dules won and touches.

Figure 3 shows Tesho Akindele's heat map, you'll notice that most of his 25 touches happened outside of the box, in deeper lying areas.

Nani and Pereyra are so important to the way this team plays

First off, let me preface this by saying neither had a stellar night. Whilst the team performed reasonably well overall, I do not believe that there were any standout performances at all. That being said, there were yet more promising signs of a decent partnership brewing between these two players. The goal being one such example; Nani gets the ball to the byline before fizzing a perfect ball into the area for Pereyra to turn and finish. That's what I want to see more of from Mauricio Pereyra. He has the ability and the soccer IQ to time late runs into the box and get on the end of crosses from the likes of Nani and Ruan. We just don't see it often enough, though I do believe that will come with time.

In terms of Orlando's possession of the ball these two players are so important, as they perfectly counteract Mendez and Rosell in the deeper lying roles. I've spoken before, about having the ability to play between the lines. Both have tremendous movement in willing to show themselves for the ball, which allows them to open up passing lanes for their teammates in midfield. This in turn allows them to showcase their skills and get the team on the front foot. You'll see from the statistics in figure 4 that these two players are always looking to get on the ball and make something happen. Pereyra and Nani had a 81.1% and 85.2% passing accuracy percentage from 53 and 54 attempted passes respectively. Both attempted 5 crosses, whilst Pereyra played 1 key pass and Nani, 3. One of which led to the only shot on target of the night (figure 4).

Out of context, these statistics aren't too bad. But these two are capable of more. I wanted to highlight this as a feature last night as their ability to play between the lines was a consistent feature during the course of the game. It was just the quality of the final pass that was lacking. Overall, this fluidity is becoming a feature of this team. And I think it's something we'll see a lot more of in the coming weeks.

Figure 4 the off the ball movement of both Pereyra and Nani allows them to open up passing lanes to receive the ball in forward areas. Both boast high pass completion rates, from a greater number of forward passes.

The statistics in figure 5 further highlight Nani and Pereyra's importance to this team. Neither player was at his best last night, and it really told with the team's low chance creation rate. The team as a while simply wasn't aggressive enough. Nani and Pereyra only completed 2 successful dribbles between them and 4 key passes. They were disposessed 3 times between them. Most of Nani's touches, in particular were lay offs or first time passes. The one occasion he did dribble and try to make something happen, we scored.

Figure 5 Nani and Pereyra tried to make things happen in the final third, but it just wasn't to be their night.

When you look at the way this team is set up, particularly with Tesho dropping so deep all of the time, you're relying on width and creativity through the middle. So when Nani and or Pereyra has a less than stellar game, it really shows. As it did last night. We seemed uncharacteristically predictable last night. Whether we attribute this to the nerves being felt by some of the younger players, playing in their first major final, I'm not sure. It's definitely not an excuse we can use for Nani anyway.

Clumsy defending proving costly

One thing you can say about Orlando City during this tournament as a whole is that they have been incredibly well organised defensively. Everyone knows their job, they're well drilled and excellent at reading a game. Sadly, for Orlando City, those qualities abandoned them for both of the Timber's goals.

The first goal is such a frustrating one to see. I played as a defender at amateur level, and one of the first things you get taught is 'don't ball watch'. You have to be aware of who's around you at all times. João Moutinho does just that. Ball watch, I mean. Take a peak at figure 6 and you'll see what I mean.

First of all, we concede an unnecessary free-kick in a dangerous area. Which is especially dangerous when the opposition has a player of Diego Valeri's quality in the field. Valeri delivers an excellent cross, which João watches all the way. Who is he not watching though? Larrys Mabiala. The defender gets his head to it, and the Timbers are on the board. Gallese should do better, but in all fairness he should never have been left so exposed. It's basic stuff.

That being said João has been excellent throughout the tournament, so I don't want to be overly critical of him. He's a young guy and he will learn from this.

Figure 6 João Moutinho gets caught ball watching as the free-kick comes in.

The second goal is probably even worse. Eryk Williamson gets given the freedom of Walt Disney World to take the ball down following a corner. He then has time and space to get the ball under his spell, before drilling it across the 6 yard box for Dario Župarić (number 13, figure 7) to ghost in unmarked and poke the ball home. The whole team just seemed to go to sleep at the worst possible time. And at this level, against a team of Portland Timber's quality you often get punished. You just cannot give anyone that much time and space in the area, and especially not from a dead ball situation. It was criminal defending.

Figure 7 I have no words. This just shouldn't happen.

Key player

This was honestly a hard one to call, as no one really stood out. Pereyra had promising moments in possession and took his goal well. He does have some frustrating moments within games, however. His delivery from dead balls was particularly poor last night, often failing to beat the first man. Whilst I do, wholeheartedly, believe that he has the potential to become a very good player in this league, he needs to cut out the mistakes to fully justify his DP tag.

Player ratings

Gallese -6- Perhaps should do better with the first goal, but made some vital saves in the 2nd half to keep the team in the game.

Ruan -6- As usual got up and down well, but to no avail. His trademark lung busting runs, however, were conspicuous only in their absence. Portland managed him well.

Carlos -6- Won everything in the air, didn't do a whole lot wrong on an individual basis.

Jansson -6- Same as for Carlos, but Orlando weren't at their best defensively in this game. At least collectively.

Moutinho-5-Very poor defensively tonight. Lost his runner for the goal, and gave away a silly free-kick just before the winner.

Rosell -7- Kept possession very well, now an established member of this team.

Mendez -7- Typically tenacious performance from Sebas. Didn't do a whole lot wrong.

Nani -7- Never really hit the heights of the semi-final. Fantastic assist for the goal, though.

Pereyra -7- Was Orlando's best player on the night, but can still do better.

Mueller -5- The fan favourite was largely anonymous. Taken off during the second half.

Akindele -5- Never really got into the game, aside from a nice touch here and there.

Starting XI


Urso -6- Looked lively, but was unable to affect the game

Dike -6- Raw pace and power, and not much else just now. He'syoung so his time will come.

Smith -6- Great chance to level the scores right at the end, but could only fire over.

Michel -6- Gave Orlando a bit more of an outlet, but never had chance to get on the scoresheet.

Patino -6- Came in late, but couldn't get it done.

All statistics provided courtesy of

Game stills courtesy of ESPN


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