It wasn't quite the exhibition of free flowing, attacking, soccer many would have been hoping for, but it was a win nonetheless. It took the Lions until the 56th minute to register their first shot on target, as Facundo Torres coolly dispatched his spot kick.
Meanwhile, at the other end, it was an all too familiar tale, as a string of Pedro Gallese saves kept the Red Bull's score tally at 0.
This won't go down as a classic Orlando City performance. Chalk it up to being a season opener. The team will improve. Meanwhile the Lion's impressive run of never losing a season opener rolls on for at least another season.
I wouldn't be hitting the panic button just yet. This is a new team; there can be no doubt it will take time to build chemistry. The game just felt rather haphazard and disjointed. Orlando were never able to truly dominate possession and had a hard time breaking through the Red Bull's press.
At least Pareja's team were able to take care of business.
That's what matters most, right?
Carlessness in possession
This was the cusp of Orlando's issues in this game. I don't think there were any tactical nuances that weren't quite right. I liked the set-up. We just didn't take care of the ball well enough.
We all know that Oscar Pareja prefers a 4-2-3-1 formation; and with the pieces he has at his disposal, that's probably the right way to set up. Michael Halliday and Luca Petrasso both defended well in 1 v 1 positions, and provided balance in attacking sense. Pereyra and Araujo can work well as a double pivot and should provide enough of a platform for the likes of Facundo Torres and Tinchy Ojeda to do their thing.
It just wasn't quite clicking on Saturday evening.
It could be that this team is yet to find its rhythm. It could be a chemistry issue for the likes of Ojeda, Petrasso and even Ivan Angulo, who is still relatively new still.
I think there will be better performances as the season goes on.
Its not like Orlando weren't trying to attack; the team made 111 successful passes into the final third and 181 into the middle third. As you can see from the heat map in figure 1, Orlando were getting into good areas, at times. Particularly in wide positions. They were just careless in possession and gave too many simple passes from those positions (and others) which led to a lack of passing connections in the area that matters most in an attacking sense.
Figure 1 shows Orlando's heatmap, notice the lack of coverage in central attacking areas.
Overall this just led to a very 'bitty' and somewhat haphazard play all over the park. It wasn't just from the wide areas. The team just seemed very frantic; the ball almost became a hot potato. This ultimately led to Orlando having an XG of 0 for the first half, which only improved to 1 at the end of the game; due, mainly, to the 78.84% chance rating from Torres' second half penalty.
Below, I have highlighted some examples of when Orlando just needed to look after the ball a little better.
First of all, this example from the 29th minute. Tinchy Ojeda picks the ball up in a pocket of space, and tries to drill the ball to Torres on the right, with his laces and into the space ahead of Orlando's number 17. What Ojeda didn't notice, however, is that Torres had checked his run, and wanted the ball in to feet.
Again, that could be a chemistry thing. I don't think it's anything to be too concerned about at this point. I'm only highlighting these instances to explain Orlando's lack of creative output, and to reinforce my belief that Pareja got his tactics right for this game. It was just poor play.
Figure 2 is a screenshot from the first half.
Secondly, this play from Petrasso. The Red Bulls launch the ball upfield and Petrasso gets right under it and heads it back. But, as you'll see in the screenshot below, he has all the time in the world to bring the ball down and hold possession. Instead Orlando ends up conceding it rather needlessly. Hot. Potato.
Figure 3 is a screenshot from the first half.
And finally, this play from Mauricio Pereyra in the second half. He picks the ball up from Halliday, and has acres of space and even more time. The skipper doesn't weigh up his options; going right to Torres or going back inside to Halliday... He can even switch it to the left with Petrasso or Angulo. He instead looks to move the ball as quick as possible and ends up chipping a pass into the right hand half space which the Red Bulls recover easily.
Figure 4 is a screenshot from the second half.
These are just 3 examples, but the match was littered with them. This sloppiness is reflected in the stats; Orlando City completed 72% of their passes. They just need to recycle possession more cleanly.
There were plenty of positives to take from this game. The performance of Michael Halliday was one that stood out to me. I'll be the first to admit, I had reservations. But then I wasn't too sure about Andor before that came out. So what the fuck do I know?
Halliday gone some way to dispelling my concerns, however. He was given a 7.6 rating on fotmob.com, which was well earned. He got forward in support of the attack well, and put some quality into the area; with one particularly devilish ball flashing across the face of goal in the second half. I look forward to seeing more of the youngster as the season progresses.
Pedro Gallese was as reliable as ever between the sticks (see top player). It was also good to get Robin Jansson back out on the field after his lengthy injury lay off. I thought Ivan Angulo provided some bright moments in the game, and looks like he could have a big season. Ramiro Enrique also looked invigorating when he came on for his debut.
It may not have been the best performance, but there's plenty to build on.
El Pulpo was in fine fettle again, as he often is. His 7.9 rating on fotmob.com can largely be attributed to the 4 saves he made in the game. Without him, Orlando don't win this game. Included in those 4 saves, 2 were from inside the area. He also made 3 high claims and 4 recoveries.
Gallese -7- Made some crucial saves to keep us in it, particularly the save in the 85th minute.
Halliday -7- Solid game from him.
Schlegel -7- Covered well.
Jansson -7- Got away with a misplaced touch in the first half, but was great aside from that.
Petrasso -7- Should be pleased with his debut showing.
Araujo -6- Conceded possession a few times and looked a little rusty.
Pereyra -6- Had a few moments, but wasn't able to dictate the game as he likes.
Angulo -6- Got into some decent areas, just lacking a little with the final pass.
Ojeda -6- A few moments of promise.
Torres -7- Nicely taken penalty.
Kara -5- Had nothing to work with, to be fair.
Cartagena -6- Came in late.
Smith -6- Came in late.
Enrique -7- Looked bright.
Thorhallson -7- Looked a calming influence.
Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja
“It was a very intense game against a rival that didn’t give up at any minute. With their pressure and the way they structure their defensive formation in the middle and in front, it is very difficult to break. For us, it was a big challenge to find the spaces that we normally do or that we have found in the past games, and we didn’t want to give up on the idea, especially in the first half, we didn’t have success with it. The second half was very level. I thought we were getting more glimpses of good sequences and this time being more ourselves. I think the best part of the game for us was that we covered that intensity at the time and our hearts were great today. It was a very deserving three points. We are happy and pleased with the heart and obviously the first game at home opening in front of our fans and getting three points against such a good rival is very valuable.”
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com and mlssoccer.com
All photos courtesy of Orlando City SC
All video assets courtesy of Orlando City SC
Game stills courtesy of Apple TV