Analysis: New York Red Bulls (a). History made, as the Lions clinch a play-off berth.
To say Sunday night was an evening of mixed emotions, would possibly be the understatement of the century. A scrappy affair in Harrison, NJ looked to have been won by the Lions, thanks to Luis Nani's second half spot-kick. An equaliser, deep into time added on, looked to have belayed Orlando's sealing of a play-off spot. The goal also dealt a hammer blow to Orlando's chances of winning the conference. Ecstasy to agony... To delirium! Yes! Arguably, one of the most famous goals in Orlando City history was scored. In Connecticut. Toronto's late winner against the 5 shites (not sorry), sealed Orlando City's spot in the Audi MLS Cup play-offs. No, you didn't read that incorrectly. Orlando were handed an invitation to the hottest party in town! And, it was Atlanta that cycled on over to our house with all the nerves and awkwardness of a teenage boy about to ask his crush to prom.
Orlando's dogged determination
This team is a team that never knows when it is beaten. I know that never truly looked like happening last night. For all their gusto in the high press, the Red Bulls never looked like troubling the Orlando goal until late-on. This game was a real physical test, a battle. The Red Bulls are a physical side, and Orlando matched them all over the field. A notion which becomes all the more impressive when you consider how stretched this team is just now. No changes were made to the team that drew with NYCFC a few days ago. Oscar Pareja simply had none to make. The likes of David Loera and Michael Halliday sat on a bench the Lions were unable to fill.
Previous Orlando teams would have wilted in such circumstances, but not this team. Wilting is simply not a word that seems to exist in their vocabulary. Orlando matched the Red Bull's 13 tackles, and bettered them 20-11 on interceptions. Orlando also completed 30 clearances compared to the Red Bull's 6. Which tells you something about the pressure Orlando were under, in regards to the high press. Sometimes the out ball was the only ball, and with 22 of 65 long balls finding a purple jersey, you begin to understand how good a job Orlando did of alleviating the pressure on their defensive third.
The forwards were able to hold up the play when possible, and also apply their own pressure when unable to do so. The tackle success chart in figure 1 gives you some idea of just how well Dike and Nani, in particular, did that. When long clearances out of the back weren't connecting, or even when the Red Bulls tried to play out from the back, Orlando's forwards were on them. Orlando's more direct approach can also lead to dangerous counters, as we saw with Robin Jansson's sumptuous ball over the top for Nani, in the first half.
Figure 1 shows how many successful tackles Dike and Nani completed.
Costly late game management decision probably cost us our Supporters Shield chances
One aspect of this team's approach to games that has improved exponentially, since Oscar Pareja's appointment, is their game management strategy. As such I don't want to come across as hyper critical, but I'm going to jump down the rabbit hole anyway. Orlando won a corner, deep into injury time. I think the vast majority of observers were thinking 'OK, keep the ball down there. Run down the clock'. Nani had already attempted to execute a number of unsuccessful short corner routines throughout the game. As such, what happened next was surprising to me. Nani attempted to drink a ball to the edge of the area, presumably to force an opening for a shot at goal. Naturally, the routine went horribly wrong. The Red Bulls broke up the other end of the field, and eventually forced an equaliser.
I realise the narrative of this section probably seems a little accusatory or inflammatory, I'm really not trying to be. El Capitão has been sensational for us since his arrival at the club, and has won us far more points than he has lost. I just found that particular corner routine, at that stage of a crucial game, to be bizarre in the least; and it probably cost us the Supporters Shield. That probably sounds melodramatic, and I'm definitely being a little harsh. Too many draws cost us that particular nugget. But, in the context of this game, you see my point. Toronto are in the driving seat, with Philly hot on their coat tails. Both have favourable run-ins as well (figures 2 and 3). Toronto are probably rubbing their hands in glee right now. 'Hey, Toronto! Do you feel lucky punk? Well... Do ya?'
In all seriousness, whoever wins the Supporters Shield, in this mental season, truly deserves it. Whatever that moronic committee says. The change in our fortunes has been nothing short of exceptional. Oscar Pareja, his backroom staff, El Capitão and all the players should be proud. And this isn't the end of things. It already feels like we've achieved something, but you can bet your bottom dollar this squad won't be thinking that. This is where the fun begins.
Figure 2 shows Toronto's run-in (KO times are in BST).
Figure 3 shows Philly's run-in (KO times are in BST).
Daryl Dike led the line well with a very mature performance. The youngster continues to play with a maturity that belies his years; it's hard to believe he's still just 20-years-old. With 2 successful dribbles, and 4 fouls drawn he was key to creating space and alleviating the pressure on Orlando's back-line. Particularly with Orlando's Hedirect approach, in mind. He did a great job of keeping the ball in the Red Bull's half. He gave Tim Parker and Amro Tarek a torrid time, including bewitching the latter to earn his team a penalty. He was a little isolated at times, but his movement always kept the Red Bulls defenders guessing.
Rowe -7- Steady performance again from the MLS vet, not much he could do about the goal.
Ruan -7- Looked a real danger going forward, would've had an assist on another night.
Jansson -7- Several crucial interventions late in the game, will be upset at not getting the clean sheet.
Carlos -7- Looks to be an astonishing bit of business. So cool, calm and collected.
Miller -7- Solid game for the Canadian, made some crucial stops. Pleased for him.
Urso -7- Full of running, made some excellent recoveries.
DeZart -6- Solid overall, but looks to be in need of a break.
Perea -6- Got about the pitch well and broke up play nicely.
Nani -6- Scored the penalty but made some bizarre decisions, particularly with a late corner routine that invited pressure. Pressure which eventually led to a goal.
Mueller -6- Not his best night, but had some lovely combination play with Ruan.
Dike -7- My man of the match, led the line superbly well. Great hold-up play.
DeJohn -6- Wasn't in for long. Maybe could've gotten out to the shooter quicker, when the ball broke on the edge of the box. But, that's me being hyper critical.
Smith -6- Perhaps unlucky to find himself on the bench again. Almost killed the game off with a sublime cross to Nani.
Schlegel -6- Abandons White for the goal, but I think he gets caught in two minds and he sees the man over. It happens.
*Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com