Orlando City and New York City FC battled to a draw in a game that, whilst entertaining, never really lived up to the hype. Billed by many as the Lion's toughest test of the season to date, an under strength NYCFC matched the home team's grit and determination, to ultimately claim a valuable road point. A frantic opening period, fraught with turnovers was succeeded by a second half that offered some flashes of brilliance, in an otherwise castellated second 45. Luis Nani gave Oscar Pareja's team the lead, with a fine individual effort. Taty Castellanos levelled from the spot late-on, after a clumsy challenge from Joao Moutinho gifted the visitors an opportunity to equalise from 12 yards.
There was plenty of industry, a few flashes of ingenue, but that was pretty much it. Neither side wanted to give much away, and it showed. It was one of those games, that was entertaining without being enthralling; basically the Force Awakens of the football world (obligatory Star Wars reference). Orlando seemed to be trying to force (hardy, ha) the issue a little in the opening half, playing a bit more direct when patience was needed. They improved on this after half-time, but it wasn't enough. Ultimately, it was a game that promised much but never really delivered on that promise. At least in terms of quality. Despite that, Orlando will be frustrated at having only drawn the game.
The first half felt a bit frenetic at times; more Rise of Skywalker. OK, I'm gonna stop with the Star Wars references. Forgive me, the Bad Batch debuted this week and I'm excited. The second 45 was something of an improvement, but overall too many attacking players in purple were off their game. Despite all that, they looked comfortable at 1-0. A moment of madness from Joao Moutinho ultimately swung the game towards the visitors. A point was probably fair; although, given where the Lions found themselves in the game, it felt very much like 2 points dropped.
Show us the money
I think all Orlando City fans are entitled to wonder where the cash is. And no, I'm not referring to our, reportedly, imminent takeover. Where's Ca$h Mueller? We're 4 games into the season, and Mueller has yet to make any tangible impact. The experienced youngster was double digits for goals contributions in 2020, this year he's yet to get off the mark in either category. He was largely anonymous during this game, and his personal stats back that up. With 0 shots attempted, 1 dribble, 2 dispossessions and 2 unsuccessful touches, it's easy to see that Ca$h struggled in this one. You'll see from his heatmap graphic in figure 1, that he was getting into good positions. So, what gives? A crisis of confidence? Maybe.
Figure 1 shows Chris Mueller's heatmap for the full 90.
We know he's a streaky player. In 2020, he scored 3 in his first 5, before going goalless in the next 6. He's traditionally been a fits and starts type of player, though he seemed to have added a degree of consistency in 2020. Particularly towards the end of the season; he may have scored only 3 in his last 12 games, but his performances were generally good. He always looked menacing. He's struggled to produce so far this season, and if we're being honest he's rarely looked like he might. That being said, I don't think there's any reason to panic. Mueller is a quality player, and with a little consistency, could become one of the league's top wingers. Oscar Pareja just needs to find a way to coax that out of him.
A continuation of the Tesho conundrum
I'm getting a sense of déjà vu here. It's a topic that I addressed following the game against SKC. I'm not one of those Tesho haters. I've seen some mind boggling tweets lately, saying things like 'can't wait for him to miss a sitter'. What? Anyway, I'm not going to get into that. Such statements are absurd in the extreme. That being said, it's becoming increasingly difficult to justify his place in the starting XI. With only 17 touches, 9 passes, 1 shot, and 2 dispossessions across the 90 minutes, it's easy to see why some fans become frustrated at the likeable Canadian. It's just not enough. Against a defence of the stature of NYCFC, Orlando's centre forward needed to offer more.
His positioning in this game was just... Bizarre. All of his 9 passes were from deep positions (figure 2), which meant he was vacating the 9, thus depriving Orlando of any sort of out-ball through the middle. Which, when you consider the absence of his, usually, reliable hold-up play... You have a problem. In the absence of Alexandre Pato and Daryl Dike, Orlando are going to have to make a decision regarding Akindele. Do they stick or twist? We know Oscar Pareja trusts him. But with recent performances in mind, his position has to be under threat. Benji Michel and Matheus Aiás are waiting in the wings. Well, at least I think Aiás is. That's a topic for another day, though.
Figure 2 shows Tesho's passing matrix, whole 90.
Tremendous spirit without key players
I'd be remiss not to reflect upon the application and spirit of this group of players. Something that was there for all to see on Saturday evening. There's a togetherness that seems to permeate throughout the entire squad. Every member of the team is willing to do their bit to ensure Orlando gets a positive result. Kyle Smith is the perfect example of this. The former Louisville City defender has performed admirably at left-back, and did just as good a job when he was shunted over to the other side, following Ruan's untimely withdrawal. The same can be said of all the players. There was certainly no lack of endeavour on display.
I'm well aware that NYCFC were missing several key players, which undoubtedly impacted upon them. That being said, Orlando finished they game sans messrs Ruan, Mueller, and Pereyra. The Lions were missing the likes of Pato and Robin Jansson before the game even got underway. Joao Moutinho was on the bench, and Dike is still in Europe (where he's likely to remain). Orlando City were far from full strength, and were still able to maintain their unbeaten run, against a quality opponent. However depleted they were. The spirit within the group is clear for all to see, and can only bode well for the future.
This week's coveted 'top player' award goes to the enigmatic Nani. Nani is beginning to make this award his own, and I'm sure he's delighted. And by that I mean, he doesn't know and probably wouldn't care if he did. Ah, self-deprication. The core of British comedy and self-loathing. In barely any seriousness, congrats Luis. I'm sure you're going to frame this and place it alongside your Champions League medal. Right? Anyway, I digress. On a night where many of his supporting cast flattered to deceive, the former Manchester United winger played a solid game. He'll be as frustrated as anyone not to get the Dub.
Nani just didn't have enough support throughout the game. He did his level best, though. And in doing so demonstrated his leadership skills, as well as his devastating ability. The Portuguese opened the scoring with a magnificent curling effort, that had Sean Johnson beaten all ends up. At this rate ESPN are going to be naming their daily top 10 after El Capitao. He posted a 77.1% pass completion rate, from 48 attempts. He also led the team in crosses with 11. The only problem was, his fellow forwards didn't seem to be on the same wavelength. And Nani's frustration become evident as the game wore on. Solid performance from the skipper. He will need more from his teammates moving forward, however.
Gallese -7- Solid overall, key stop to deny NYCFC at the death.
Ruan -7- Threatening in the first-half, but was forced off with an injury at the interval.
Antonio Carlos -6- Wasn't overly pressured, and handled everything well.
Schlegel -6- Like Antonio Carlos, wasn't tasked with much. What he had to do, he did well.
Smith -6- Turned the ball over a few times in the first-half, but was full of running. Got forward well when he switched to right-back.
Mendez -7- Made some enterprising passes and got about the midfield well.
Urso -7- Solid on the defensive side of the game, and got forward well to support the attack.
Mueller -5- Largely anonymous, seemed unwilling to take defenders on.
Pereyra -6- Had some neat touches, and played some clever through balls. Not his game overall, however.
Nani -7- Lively all night, another golazzo to add to the collection
Akindele -5- First touch and movement were very poor. Offered little to the attack other than hustle. That's not enough.
Perea -6- A few decent touches, but was unable to impact the game.
Van Der Water -6- Probably should have come in earlier, though didn't have much of an impact.
Michel -6- Hardly had a kick.
Moutinho -6- First significant action in a while, distribution and overall defensive work was fine. Costly error led to the game swinging in the visitors' favour.