This game had all the markings of a long dawn walk to the gallows. At least it did if you absorbed too much of the pre-match Orlando City social media conversation. There can be no doubt, this game was always going to be a tough obstacle to overcome for Oscar Pareja's team. Even with the 9 changes Bruce Arena made to his starting XI. The New England Revolution team sheet certainly made for pleasant reading, although there was still plenty of quality taking the field, even if the likes of Carles Gil and Adam Buksa started on the bench. And it all started so well. Shame it didn't end that way.
Orlando started the match with a real verve and purpose, occupying 68% of the possession during a thoroughly entertaining first-half. The concern was that Orlando wouldn't make their dominance count. Nani's header ensured that Orlando at least had something to protect in second period. They needed that second goal, though. They got it; not that it really mattered. Daryl Dike's penalty was cancelled out by two late Adam Buksa goals. The striker capitalised on dreadful defending from Orlando (specifically Rodrigo Schlegel), to gain a point for the newly crowned Supporters Shield winners.
The draw ultimately felt like a loss. It's a result that leaves Orlando in a less than comfortable position in the play-off race. If I said I was happy as I trudged up to bed at 3 a.m. I'd be a lier. The way Orlando let that lead slip just wasn't good enough.
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Orlando's positive first-half display
As disappointing as the result ultimately was, there were a lot of positives to take from the opening 45 minutes of the game. This was a game that Orlando dictated with solid possession, effective use of the ball and excellent recovery work. During the first-half Orlando enjoyed 67.4% of the possession, completing 90% of their 328 passes (figure 1).
The particulars of why Orlando were able to dictate the game so strongly are multi-faceted. First of all, the positioning and movement of Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez meant Orlando were always able to maintain a high offensive line. Both players were calm on the ball and broke lines excellently. Both players posted high possession percentages, with Urso having 8.4% of the play, and Mendez 7.4%. Compared with 2.7% and 4.5% for their opposite numbers Maicel and Luis Caicedo, it's easy to see why Orlando had so much of the possession as a team.
Secondly, the quality of passing from both Urso and Mendez was particularly impressive. It allowed for Orlando to break defensive lines, open up passing lanes and push for a breakthrough. The final ball perhaps needed to be a little better, but there was still plenty for Oscar Pareja to be pleased with. Both Urso and Mendez completed passes all over the pitch (figure 2), which meant that Orlando were able to keep moving the ball and probe for an opening.
And finally, Orlando's off the ball movement was excellent in the opening . Particularly in the wide areas. There were always multiple passing options (figure 3). When you combine excellent distribution and movement, you're going to create chances as a team. Whilst Orlando didn't have a tonne of goalscoring opportunities, there were plenty of openings. That final pass just needed to be a little better at times. Regardless, City displayed an ability to dictate possession of the ball, which they are going to have to do if they are too make the play-offs. The trick now is going to be turning this into something they can do for 90 minutes...
Figure 1 shows the first-half possession statistics for both teams.
Figure 2 shows the completed pass positioning matrix for both Mendez and Urso, first-half.
Figure 3 is a game still from just before Daryl Dike's 34th minute header, that shows the amount of passing options Mueller has before playing in Ruan.
What was actually one of the most frustrating things about Orlando throwing away the win, was the manner of the defending for both goals, combined with the fact that the Lions actually defended pretty well until the 80th minute.
I know this might sound harsh, but I'm laying a large portion of the blame at Rodrigo Schlegel's feet. I love the guy, but he switched off big time. The first goal was just a total lapse in concentration. I've seen many people say that Schlegel wasn't aware of Adam Buksa's positioning, but he was. Shortly before the still below (figure 4) Schlegel checks back over his shoulder. He then holds his position, when what he actually needs to do is either step up and catch him offside or get tight. He does neither, and Buksa has an easy finish. It's extremely sloppy defensive play. And that's me being kind.
Figure 4 is a game still from just before the first New England goal.
The second is just as bad, if not worse. Schlegel makes no attempt to challenge Buksa in the air and the New England man steals a point for the visitors. It's just awful, shambolic play from Schlegel. Yes Orlando can do a better job of closing out the initial cross, but Schlegel has to do better. He just stands and... Wait for it... Ducks! Unbelievable. Just... what!? As a central defender in that position you either have to jump from a standing start and win the ball or... Well, you have to do that. Don't duck and let your guy win the challenge. Costly, costly error.
Figure 5... What!?
Poor substitutions by Pareja
Some of Oscar's changes were just bizarre to be honest. I don't understand the decision to withdraw Mendez, particularly when he was as influential as he typically is. If Pareja wanted to bolster the midfield, he'd have been better suited withdrawing one of the forwards and going 5 across the middle. The trouble is, Pareja seems completely unwilling to deviate from the 4-2-3-1.
I don't think Tesho Akindele should've come in. I think Alexandre Pato or Silvester Van Der Water would've been better suited to come in for Nani and provide fresh energy. At 2-1 should've moved to a 4-5-1 with Benji Michel, Urso, Joey DeZart, Sebas Mendez and Pato/VDW across the 5, with Pato/ supporting Dike if needed. The midfield needed to be packed and it just wasn't.
It felt good to have El Capitao somewhere back to his best for this game. Hopefully this can be a springboard for the rest of the season. Nani took 2 shots, scoring 1, completed 1 dribble and played 2 key passes, whilst completing 80.7% of his 57 passes. His whoscored.com rating of 8.37 was reflective of his overall performance. His movement was excellent and he was always trying to be positive, taking defenders on and always looking to create.
Gallese -7- Left exposed for both goals, made a couple of important saves.
Ruan -7- Got forward in support of the attack well.
Antonio Carlos -6- Reasonably solid game.
Schlegel -5- No comment.
Moutinho -7- Chalked up his first assist of the season.
Mendez -8- Very good performance.
Urso -8- Helped dictate the flow of the game early on.
Mueller -7- Full of running, but should've made it 3-0 in the second half.
Pereyra -7- Knocked the ball around well and found space effectively.
Nani -9- Somewhere back to his best.
Dike -8- Led the line brilliantly.
Mas -6- Unlucky not to get the start.
Akindele -6- Came in late.
Michel -7- Full of running, unlucky not to score.
Perea -6- Came on for fresh legs in midfield.
DeZart -5- Came on very late.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com
Game stills courtesy of Fox Sports 1.
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