Orlando headed to Nissan Stadium, in Nashville, full of confidence following on from their landmark 3-1 victory against Atlanta United. It was a changed side from the one who earned that hard-fought win over Atlanta, lining up in a somewhat surprising 4-4-1-1 formation. The point was hard fought, during a tightly contested affair, in Tennessee. Despite that, this team will still be disappointed not to come away with all 3 points, despite a spirited away performance. Such is the mentality of this squad under Oscar Pareja. Even when they play without their talisman and captain, Luis Nani, they still expect to win every game they play.
During a close encounter, it was Orlando City that struck first. Benji Michel unleashed an absolute rocket from distance to put the Lions a goal to the good. Randall Leal then leveled the score early in the second half with his first ever goal in MLS. The Lions now head into back-to-back rivalry home games against Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Orlando are well positioned to end phase one strongly, and further cement their place in the MLS Cup play-off places.
As I alluded to earlier, Orlando set up in something of a surprise formation. The 4-4-1-1 worked well to really stifle a Nashville side that tend to create chances aplenty. I mentioned during the preview, that we were perhaps a tad fortunate that the visitors left their shooting boots at home last week. And Pareja seemed wise to that fact. Nashville are a better team than their lowly position suggests. Orlando came into this game with a plan aimed at limiting Nashville's chances, and the plan worked well.
Orlando set up in a 4-4-1-1 with Benji Michel and Robinho in the wide positions, Ruan and Kyle Miller took up their respective full-back positions. It meant that the team had plenty of energy in the wide areas to combat Alex Muyl and Randall Leal. This formation also allowed Orlando to build a strong spring board from which to launch their own counter attacks. It was by no means a rigid 4-4-1-1. As the passing network graphic in figure 1 reinforces, it often became a 4-1-4-1 when the Lions were in possession. Uri Rosell was able to drop in and play the quarter-back role whilst Kamal Miller and Ruan got forward on the offensive. Mauricio Pereyra would then drop into the midfield and offer defensive support where necessary.
This strategy was clearly designed to prevent Nashville from taking the initiative, but also gave us ample opportunity to create our own chances going forward. It was ultimately a lack of quality at times, however, that meant we weren't able to deliver the final killer pass and snuff the game out.
Make no mistake though, this isn't a bad point. It could serve us well come the end of the season.
Figure 1 Orlando's passing network showed just how fluid the 4-4-1-1 could be in transition.
Dominating possession on the road
Orlando enjoyed the Lion's share of possession in the Music City, with 58% of the ball. Not only did we set up to stifle Nashville's creativity, but we were also well set-up to maintain possession. As I referenced earlier, the 4-4-1-1 is more of a fluid formation. Rather than just having 2 banks of 4 sat behind the ball. Rosell's quarter-back role allowed him to drop into the 6 and spread the ball wide. It also opens up passing lanes with the likes of Mauricio Pereyra and Junior Urso.
Orlando attempted 583 passes with a 90% pass completion rate (figure 2). Impressive, most impressive. Bonus points if you get that movie reference. Points for what though? Nothing, really.
This possession based, and well organised, style was an effective tactic. Set up to be defensively resolute, but also not allowing Nashville too much of the ball. Simple, yet effective. After all, what can they do if they don't have the ball?
Figure 2 Orlando adopted a possession based approach as the first form of defence. Orlando played 583 passes with a 90% pass completion rate.
Benji Michel... Has he found his niche?
There has been some debate among the Orlando City faithful regarding Benji Michel's best position. Personally, I see him as more of an out-and-out striker. He has the raw pace, power and finishing ability to establish himself as a decent striker in MLS. On the face of it, he did seem to carve himself something of a niche in this game as an inside right forward. At least, on a one-off basis. Long-term, however, i'm not sure this is going to be his best position.
Michel undoubtedly acquitted himself well on Wednesday evening. He took his goal brilliantly, and his movement all evening was fantastic. However, his first touch let him down at times; particularly with his back to goal in wide areas. He was dispossessed following a poor touch on 9 occasions. He seemed to struggle on the half-turn. This is a key attribute for any effective winger. Particularly when you play for a team, like Orlando, who often like to dominate the ball. You can probably get a way with it a bit more, when playing on the counter. But when you play for a team who keeps possession, as a winger you need to be able to play on the half-turn and beat your full-back that way. I'm not convinced Benji has the technique to do that consistently. Though, as always, i'm happy to be proven wrong.
Figure 3 Benji Michel was dispossessed 9 times following poor touches in wide areas.
Figure 4 shows Michel's excellent movement on Wednesday evening. He covered a lot of ground.
This is no slight on Michel, however. He displayed his strength and raw finishing ability with his goal. From a central area. He uses his strength to hold off a challenge, and instinctively sends a rasping drive behind the sprawling Nashville 'keeper. I genuinely believe he has the ability to forge an excellent career as a striker in MLS.
Truthfully, the emergence of Daryl Dike has probably stunted his chances in that position. As such, he is perhaps more likely to get minutes playing as an inside forward. Whilst that probably isn't going to be his position long-term, he has the pace and movement to make himself useful in games likes this (see figure 4). He has the pace, movement and finishing ability to bamboozle defenders as a centre-forward. However, he lacks the first touch to be an effective winger/inside forward in the long-run.
The second year rookie showed his worth to this team with an energetic performance and a brilliantly well-taken goal to give the Lions a deserved lead. As I've already addressed he has shortcomings as a winger or inside forward. Nevertheless, he made himself a nuisance all evening. His goal would have graced any occasion in world football. Sublime stuff. The goal also showcased his abilities as a striker, he just has to be patient and wait for his chance.
Gallese -7- Left a bit exposed for the goal, which was well worked. Made a few simple, but smart saves.
Ruan -7- Got forward well, was always an outlet.
Carlos -7- Was reasonably solid, continues to build on a positive partnership with Jansson.
Jansson -7- Reasonably solid performance, displayed good leadership.
Miller -6- More of a centre-back than a left-back in my eyes, probably could have done better with the goal. Was OK apart from that.
Michel -7- Lots of positives from his performance, goal was a rocket.
Rosell -7- Orchestrated another positive away performance.
Urso -7- Dynamic, hustled well. Unlucky not to win the game with a late chance.
Robinho -6- Didn't offer a whole lot going forward, has struggled to make an impact in purple.
Pereyra -6- Showed his value to the side offensively and defensively.
Dike -7- Led the line well, strong and assured performance yet again.
Mendez -7- Provided good energy to help see the game out.
Mueller -7- Similar to Mendez, he livened the game up a little bit. Hustled well.
Akindele -7- Set Urso up with a great chance late on. Smart play with the downward header.
Smith -7- Also had a late chance, forced a smart save from Willis.
Perea -7- Provided good energy. Looks like he has the potential to develop into a strong MLS talent.