Analysis: Nashville SC (a). Orlando demonstrate fighting spirit to seal come back draw.
Orlando City halted their recent run of consecutive losses with a hard fought come back draw in Tennessee. The draw itself, in terms of points on the board, is far from ideal. It's also by no means a disaster. With a crunch game against Hernán Losada's D.C. United coming up on Saturday, the Lions have a good chance to haul themselves back into the top 4, with only a point separating the two sides. Orlando are in something of a precarious position right now, and they have to make the weekend count. If they show even a modicum of the self belief and invention they showed late on in Nashville, they'll give themselves half a chance
As for this game, there were as many positives as there were negatives (unnecessary Harry Potter reference incoming) in my not so humble opinion. But, let's focus on the positives, shall we? There's been a lot of negativity amongst Orlando City supporters lately. Not unfounded, but it gets a little nauseating. I'm choosing to be optimistic for once. After all, help will always be given at MLS/Hogwarts to those who deserve it. Sorry, I can't help myself sometimes.
Orlando City certainly deserved to take something from this game. Even if the point was less than ideal. Beggars can't be choosers at this point, unfortunately. For want of a better phrase.
Orlando's fighting spirit
What was clear, from the outset of this match, was Orlando's determination to win the physical battle. They wouldn't let Nashville have it easy. There also seemed to be an air of confidence about the team. It would've been so easy for them to collapse and wilt under the pressure after the second goal. They refused to lay down their arms, which was encouraging to see. Orlando rolled up their collective sleeves and continued the fight. The Lions won more aerial duels (16-12), made more defensive blocks (8-5) and also made more recoveries (5-4).
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The synics amongst you might accuse me of reading too much into relatively modest statistics. When you've won only 1 game in 6 you take whatever solice you can, such is the nature of our precarious position in the play-off race. And it is precarious. But does that mean we should be losing our minds? No. On Saturday we face 3rd place D.C. (as I've already mentioned). A win there and the picture is a heck of a lot rosier. And it has to be a win. The fighting spirit displayed in this game showed me that this team is capable of achieving such a result.
This team's spirit was obvious throughout the game but particularly from the 70th minute onwards, when we were staring down the barrel. Obviously I'm not advocating we should wait till we get ourselves in the mire before we start playing. Far from it. But you take my meaning. Orlando were by far the better team late in the game. The Lions were up in every category bar tackles, according to the whoscored.com boffins (figure 1). There was a greater intensity to their play, which allowed their quality to shine through and earn a deserved point.
Figure 1 shows Orlando's overall performance statistics from the 70th minute onwards.
The importance of Sebas Mendez
Sebas was an absolute colossus in this game, until his withdrawal in the 82nd minute. His, frankly, superb passing allowed Orlando City to finish as strongly as they did. Sebas completed 92.3% of his 65 passes, which allowed Orlando to gain a foothold in midfield particularly as the game wore on. This allowed Sebas to assume the quarterback role and gave Orlando a base to attack from. If you look at the passing network graphic (figure 2) you'll see that Mendez was breaking lines and shifting the ball all over the park. He was a vitally important link between the midfield and Mauricio Pereyra in the 10. In recent weeks Pereyra has been isolated, so having that partnership back is huge for Orlando City.
Figure 2 shows Orlando's passing network graphic.
Orlando City are a better team when Daryl Dike plays
It's that simple. He's much more than a goal scorer, he's a focal point, he bullies defenders and makes life difficult for them. We saw that with the penalty. Even if he's not having chances laid on a plate for him, he's always on the move and willing to receive the ball in the area. He then uses his physicality to either make something happen or cause the defender to make a play.
This is exactly what happened on Wednesday evening; Dike uses his strength to hold his position and force Jack Maher into the play. Maher makes a right hash of things and hauls Dike down (figure 3). It's just good, all-round forward play. Dike seems to be the only one capable of bringing that to the table. With 2 shots, 1 completed dribble, 3 drawn fouls and, crucially, 1 goal it's clear how valuable he is. Oh, and let him stay on penalty duties.
Figure 3 shows the penalty incident.
Sebas was in imperious form in Nashville. His passing was outstanding, he carried the ball well (2 completed dribbles), his positioning was effective (figure 4), he broke up play well and used the ball intelligently. He provides an excellent link between defence and attack, something that has been missing for quite some time. Well, since Sebas Mendez last played to be precise.
Figure 4 shows Orlando's positioning matrix, whole 90. Look how Sebas was positioned at the base of the midfield.
Gallese -7- Made a few key stops at key times, to keep Orlando in it.
Ruan -6- Got forward well but was a bit suspect positionally at times.
Schlegel -6- Could've done better with the second goal, but solid generally.
Antonio Carlos -6- As above really.
Moutinho -7- Got forward well and linked up with Sebas effectively.
Mendez -8- Vitally important cog in the Orlando City machine.
Urso -7- Got himself about the pitch well.
Alvarado -7- Considering his lack of game time, he did well.
Pereyra -7- Seemed more like his usual self.
Van Der Water -6- Hard to judge his performance here, but I'd rather see him than Mueller right now.
Dike -7- New penalty taker.
Mas -6- Came in injury time.
Michel -6- Provided some fresh legs and energy at an important time.
Akindele -6- Helped provide an extra body in attack.
Nani -7- Provided a bit of a spark.
Smith -6- Came in late.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com
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