Analysis: Nashville (h). Late set-back for Orlando City sees them finish 4th, tie with NYCFC set up.
Orlando City suffered defeat at home for the first time this season, as Nashville stole the points with a late double salvo. It's difficult to argue that the visitors didn't deserve the spoils, as the Lions never really got going after the interval. Worryingly, Orlando again failed to win without Mauricio Pereyra in their line-up. Conversely they have only lost 1 of the 14 games he has started. They've won twice in 7 games without him in that starting XI. This team is markedly better with the Uruguayan present. The playmaker has this innate ability to break lines with his passing, and find little pockets of space that his opponents simply don't see. He's crucial to the way Orlando City play, and as such was conspicuous only in his absence as the Lions fell to a disappointing home defeat.
Don't despair though. There were positives aplenty to take from this game. Daryl Dike moved to 8 goals for the season, whilst Luis Nani reminded us all that he's a man for the big moments. His sublime free-kick was one of the best we've seen all season, from across the league. It takes some skill to get the ball up and over the wall from that distance. Never mind getting it to come back down again.
Whilst there were undoubtedly 1 or 2 moments of concern in this game, there's still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Orlando City are about to embark on their maiden voyage into the post-season. And they do so with a newfound, league-wide, respect and devilishly delightfil ability to win big.
Orlando's vulnerability to crosses
One common theme of Orlando City teams from yesteryear is their defensive vulnerability. Now, before anyone screams out in angst, there has been an exponential improvement in their defensive stability this season. Particularly when you consider the exceptional circumstances the team are operating under. Things such as same-day travel, behind closed doors and reduced stadium capacity games and the anxiety around Covid-19. There's been a lot to contend with this season, that's for sure.
Oscar Pareja's team have the joint 3rd most-stingiest defence, having shipped 25 goals in 23 games. Philadelphia Union have the strongest defence, with 20 conceded. When you factor in the mitigating circumstances I mentioned previously, it's not hard to see why this Orlando City back-line has drawn plaudits for its improvement under Pareja. The likeable Colombian made an excellent acquisition in Antonio Carlos. The Brazilian defender endured a shaky start to the MLS Is Back tournament, but has since firmly established himself as one of the best central defenders in MLS. This is a good Orlando City defence. It does have a chink in its armour, however.
Of those 25 conceded, 12 came from crosses into the box (both from set-plays and open-play). The chink. If those goals don't happen, the season ends even better than it did. With silverware. That being said, to concede no goals from crosses in a season is, frankly, unobtainable. It's perfectenschlag. And no one can achieve that, except Dwight. It's all about minimising the damage.
At this point, it's difficult to pinpoint an exact issue to explain the Lion's Achilles heel. Different people will have different opinions on what's going wrong in this area, I'll let you draw your own conclusions. For me, it's a combination of things. Lapses in concentration, personal error and the disadvantages of using a zonal marking system to defend against set-pieces. It's the proverbial melting pot, with a variety of different ingredients which combine to, well... Make us give up points. Look at Nashville's winner as a prime example (figure 1). Antonio Carlos seems to lose sight of his man (Cadiz, 99) who arches his run and finds himself with a free header. Game over. I'm not blaming Carlos. He's been stellar this season. There is no one, glaring, error. The response to the question of 'what went wrong here?' is undoubtedly multi-faceted.
It's well known that Orlando utilitise a zonal marking system, something I'm not a fan of. As a defender you're always starting from a standing position, with the attackers gaining momentum on their runs as they move to attack the ball. You're essentially waiting for them to attack the space. The more traditional man-to-man system mitigates that somewhat. Not entirely, but it allows your defenders to track their man and ensure they don't get a running start. There is also clear accountability. Your man, is your man. And that's it. If you lose him, it's on you. That accountability brings a remarkable clarity to proceedings.
Now, what happens here (aside from the pathetic dive that wins the free-kick) is that, Cadiz gets himself a few yards of space. He wiggles free of Carlos, who either expects Kyle Smith or Joey DeZart to pick him up, or just straight up loses him. You can argue just as well for either. Either which way an attacker ends up with a free header in our box, which shouldn't ever happen. So, why does it happen? Is it as simple as a concentration issue? Playing at a high level, in intense Central Floridian conditions? Depending on how you look at this goal, there are any number of things that you could take exception to. There is no clear, singular issue. Just a stupifyinng concoction of bilateral issues.
Figure 1 is a game still immediately prior to Nashville's winner.
Big moments from big players
If this game reminded us of anything (I want to keep the glass half-full), it's that we have a squad littered with players who excel in the big moments. Chris Mueller and Daryl Dike combined excellently for the opening goal, with a confidence and maturity that belies their young years. El Capitão's free-kick was the perfect example of this. At the time, this was a huge moment. It was a goal that could, very easily, have secured 3rd place and a 4th consecutive win and effectively guarantee a home MLS Cup final (should they make it). It was a big, big moment from a man who has seen and done it all in the game. Would you honestly bet against him doing it again in the play-offs? I wouldn't.
Figure 2 shows a 'certified banger'. Look it up.
It was a frustrating day for everyone in purple, but Chris Mueller was still able to show flashes of the tremendous quality he possesses. A call-up to the USMNT cannot be far away. The young forward has had a stellar 3rd season in the league, notching 10 goals and contributing 7 assists. On Sunday afternoon he laid on a goal for Daryl Dike, and was full of running and ingenuity for the entire game. His pass completion rate of 91.7% from 24 attempts reflects the confident coursing through his very being. The American completed 2 dribbles and attempted 2 shots on goal as he sought to get Oscar Pareja's team over the line. This wasn't his finest game of 2020, not by a long shot. Which serves as an accurate measure of the tremendous strides he has made towards achieving his potential this season.
Rowe -6- Made a few solid saves, but was left hopelessly exposed for the goals in the second half
Ruan -7- Got up and down the field well, and caused serious problems for Nashville.
Carlos -6- Will be desperately disappointed with both of the late goals. Has been tremendous this season, though.
Jansson -6- Similarly to Carlos, he's been outstanding this season but will be upset at having lost the game.
Smith -7- Solid and dependable. Will rightly feel aggrieved at conceding the free-kick, which was soft to say the least.
Urso -6- Full of running, few poor touches here and there. Not his best game, nor was it his worst.
Perea -6- Provided lots of energy, and was reasonable on the ball.
Bender -6- Full MLS debut. Showed some bright touches, but was indecisive at times. That comes with experience, though.
Nani -6- Sublime free-kick. After last week's events, he'll be more upset than anyone that we let things slip.
Mueller -7- Looked a threat all afternoon. Not his best game by a long stretch, but was probably Orlando's best player on the day.
Dike -6- Didn't have a whole lot to go off. Decent hold-up, and super finish for the goal.
Akindele -6- Came in at half-time, had a few decent touches. No significant sight at goal, though.
Mendez -6- Sloppy when he came in, uncharacteristically so.
DeZart -5- Came in too late to impact the game.
Michel -6- Provided some energy, and a few decent touches.
Aiás -5- Impossible to rescue a game with such little time on the field.
*All statistics courtesy of mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com
Game still courtesy of mlssoccer.com