Wow, just wow. Mightn't seem like the most eloquent of prose, but my gosh it's appropriate. That game was by far and away the most bizarre game I've ever seen in my 20+ years following this game. First off, let's be honest; Orlando City did not play well. At least not technically. In more emotional terms, however... This was Orlando City's greatest ever performance. Period. That might seem like an overreaction, I know. But it's not that much of a stretch. The heart, desire and sheer doggedness on display was absolutely magnificent. This was a war, and Orlando City were the victors. The effort and perspiration on displays from our lion hearts was as apparent as Allen Chapman's lack of knowledge regarding the rules. More on that later...
This team just does not know when it is beaten. This team's character perfectly personifies the deep routed resolve that courses through this club and this city. We do not know when we are beaten. We're like the freakin' Avengers. Thanos came, and all seemed lost, but we said 'nah, no way'. We're not having that. And we didn't. It's moments like this where legends are made, forged in steel against the backdrop of adversity. This team does not die, and it's for this reason the rest of the league has to take them seriously. This team has the character and presence of mind to fight their way through misfortune, when all seems lost. This is why they can win MLS Cup.
Turnovers cause Orlando real problems... As do set-pieces
Amongst all of the furor of that farcical penalty shoot-out, you could perhaps be forgiven for forgetting there was a game of soccer preceding it. Crazy, right? It was a difficult afternoon all round. Oscar Pareja's team weren't at their brilliant best. We know this team is one capable of dominating possession and playing through a high press with relative comfort. This was an ability that seemed to desert them, even prior to Ruan's sending off (things actually improved after that). There seemed to be an uncharacteristic lack of patience in the side, as they sought to try and force passes that weren't necessarily on. Whether it was the occasion that got to them, or just an off-day is unclear. This team tallied 21 unsuccessful touches (touches that led to a turnover or loss of possession) and a startlingly high 20 dispossessions (figure 1). Luis Nani was chief among them with 6 overall dispossessions.
You simply cannot afford to turn possession over so many times against a team of NYCFC's quality. We were fortunate to make it to extra-time level, as a string of acrobatic saves from Pedro Gallese kept the scores level. NYCFC peppered the Orlando goal with 26 shots throughout the match, with Orlando's Peruvian goalkeeper saving the 7 that found the target. There were also a remarkable 8 blocks from Orlando City players, including one particularly heroic charge from Antonio Carlos. In fact, if not for the heroics of Carlos and Robin Jansson, Pedro would have had a lot more work to do. Carlos alone charged down 5 shots. He was the proverbial man-mountain. A mountain that would not bow to the wind.
Figure 1 shows how often Orlando players were dispossessed and how uncharacteristically sloppy they were with their touches (disp. = Dispossession, UnsTouches = Unsuccessful touches).
Overall, the visitors were just more clinical and efficient when in possession of the ball. With 55.7% of the overall play, they had a pass completion rate of 82%, with 470 of their 576 pass attempts. Comparitively, Orlando registered an 80% pass completion rate, with 375 of their 470 attempts finding their intended target (figure 2). An issue that was expedited following Ruan's dismissal, with NYCFC monopolising the ball with 64.4% of the possession and an 89% pass completion rate. Remarkably, they only registered 1 shot on target (incl. extra-time) from that point on. That just speaks to the incredible defensive rearguard action from the Lions. Orlando were also significantly more proficient in possession from then on in, making 101 of the 135 attempts as the team adopted a more conservative approach. If anything Ruan's red card seemed to galvanise the team. The old adage that it's harder to play against 10 men than 11 held true on Saturday, that's for sure.
Figure in 2 the successful pass statistics were dominated by the visitors.
As insurmountable and impregnable the Orlando City back-line were during extra-time, they still have one significant weakness. Set-pieces. *shudders*. I'm not a fan of the zonal marking system, I'm sorry I just don't like it. Look at the game still in figure 3 (and the highlight reel further down), Orlando's positioning is actually excellent. The issue is, NYCFC are positioned deep. This allows them to get a running start on the Orlando defenders. It's so hard to compete aerially from a standing position, when the opposition has a running start. Maxime Chanot has all of the momentum behind him. Now, Chanot isn't running at significant pace but he is moving towards the goal and his eyes on the ball the whole time. Any small amount of momentum can make a hige difference when your opponent is defending from a standing position. Jansson has a near impossible task to stop him, especially when you consider the size and power of the Luxembourg international. Jansson is jumping from a starting position, with Nani(!?) attempting the check Chanot's run.
In my humble opinion, man-to-man is the more effective system as the attacking team doesn't have chance to gain momentum in their runs. Then again, I'm not a Supporters Shield winning coach, so what do I know? It's worth noting that NYCFC had a further 10 corners, all of which were defended successfully. There's definitely improvements being made, as the team generally looked more comfortable defending set-pieces after this point. Goals like this can be costly though; let's hope we aren't made to pay in the conference semis.
Figure 3 Chanot steals a march for the equaliser. Another casualty of the zonal marking system.
Ruan sees red... Literally
Dear, oh dear. When I saw this my mind immediately flashed back to 1998. David Beckham had a rush of blood to the head when ol' Golden Balls petulantly kicked out at Diego Simeone. It was a moment of madness that ended up costing England. Thankfully, Ruan's dismissal didn't have quite the same ramifications. It was a moment of madness, he's a young player and he will learn from it.
After the game, Pareja explained he went back to the dressing room (after THAT save) to console Ruan. He shouldn't be crucified for this, he will learn from it and it'll make him a better player. We've all had those moments when the red mist descends. The difference is most of us won't have been in a high-level, do-or-die sporting fixture. He will be a huge miss for the semi-final (I would be stunned if the club appealed it), but we have an able deputy in Kyle Smith.
More embarrassing officiating... Not good enough
If I'm being honest, I'm not entirely sure what happened in that shoot-out. Even now. It was a mess. It's been made clear, by this embarrassing statement, that the MLS is currently operating under the 2019/20 IFAB rules. Fine. Under said rules, the referee foregoes the warning given to goalkeepers under the 2020/21 rules. It's a yellow card offence. The rule caused a tremendous amount of controversy during the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup. I think the league should have moved to the 2020/21 rules during the Coronavirus break, but that's besides the point. By the letter of the law, it is a bookable offence. Never mind the minimal movement from his line, and the fact it was mid-save. There is no clear advisory on whether yellow cards accumulated in the game, carry over. OK, fine. Allen Chapman sends him off. I, personally, don't agree with the decision. It's impossible to expect a goalkeeper to stay routed to their line, when moving to save a penalty. Gallese has to move before the ball is kicked, otherwise he'd never save it. Common sense, surely? Apparently not.
My main issues are two-fold. First of all, there has to be consistency. Look at the game stills in figures 4 and 5. There is minimal difference between the saves of Pedro Gallese and Sean Johnson, both inch fractionally off their line, at very similar distances mid-save. Chapman is perfectly positioned to see Johnson's positioning (figure 6), yet no call is made. The consistency, or lack thereof, is embarrassing.
My second issue, is the lack of communication and understanding of the rules they are enforcing. Amongst all the hullaboo, how is a replacement goalkeeper allowed to go as far positioning himself in the goal, to face a re-take, before Chapman even says anything? Even then, it's VAR that makes the call! It took so long to rectify the situation, and tempers were flaring. Chapman lost all control of the game. It was a farce; a farce that shows the league in such a negative light. It's made the news over here and all over Europe. PRO has to do better, if this league is to continue on its current trajectory.
Figure 4 there is minimal movement as El Pulpo 'advances' off his line.
Figure 5 apparently it's OK for Sean Johnson to do the same thing.
On the balance of overall play, it's either Antonio Carlos or Pedro Gallese. That being said, how can I not give it to this man? This big, beautiful, slightly terrifying man? What I loved most about this, was that I clearly had the desire and the temperament to make himself a hero. He'd already converted a kick, it would've been very easy for him to shy away. Instead he told Papi, 'I played in goal once when I was a kid'. Nobody would've blamed him had he not made a save, but he defied expectations and ultimately paved the way to victory. It's this sort of monumental strength of character that could see Orlando City win MLS Cup.
Gallese -8- Superb game until that farce at the end.
Ruan -5- A game he will want to forget, will learn from this experience.
Carlos -9- Defended very well and showed nerves of steel in the shoot-out.
Jansson -7- Absolute man mountain, seems to have ice in his veins.
Smith -7- What you see is what you get, solid performance.
Urso -6- Decidedly off-colour, and seemed to play himself into trouble at times.
Rosell -6- Very rusty, which is to be expected after such a long absence.
Pereyra -6- Very quiet, but showed a few neat touches.
Mueller -6- Unfortunate to be subbed off, but wasn't his day.
Nani -6- Not his best game, will be gutted about the penalty in the shoot-out.
Dike -6- Was isolated at times, and largely fed off scraps.
Miller -7- Solid, no frills performance from the young Canadian.
Schlegel -10- Hero. End of.
Perea -7- Provided some great energy, and took his penalty with aplomb.
Akindele -7- Put himself about, and was clinical from the spot.
Michel -9- Ice cool with the winning penalty.
*All statistics courtesy of whoscored.com