Analysis: Philadelphia Union. Orlando City tops group with hard fought draw.
Updated: Jul 25
Orlando City's highly anticipated match-up with the Philadelphia Union. In a tournament that is feeling increasingly like a World Cup mock up, it's quite easy to forget that regular season points are at stake. Something that was clearly not lost on Lions head coach Oscar Pareja. Aside from the exclusion of the eminently frustrating Dom Dwyer (injury), the Orlando City head coach named the same team that had seen off Inter Fort Lauderdale and New York City FC. Tesho Akindele came in, as Orlando sought to not only cement their position as group leaders. But also to fight for much coveted regular season points.
The first half certainly carried the air of a game that mattered to both teams, which seemed to spill over into both team's play. A frenetic and fast paced half of soccer made for a game that was both parts enthralling and sloppy. Both teams struggled to maintain possession during the first 45, with the Union posting and 84% pass completion rate and Orlando an 80% completion rate. Whilst simultaneously going hell for leather to win the game.
It has to be said that this was a theme which seeped into the second 45 minutes as well, as both teams jostled for position. Both squads visibly tired towards the end of this keenly fought encounter. What we saw in this games was a metaphorical boxing match between two teams that are more than capable of going deep in this tournament, and possibly the season as a whole.
Philadelphia utilising the right flank to nullify Moutinho and Nani
In my preview for this game, I spoke about how Philadelphia like to use Alejandro Bedoya and Raymon Gaddis down the right hand side. And this was certainly a concurrent theme during the first half. In the second half there were a few subtle changes. Particularly after Ilsinho replaced Sergio Santos on 58 minutes. The Brazilian moved into a right wing position, whilst Bedoya moved centrally to link up more with Kacper Przybyłko. And the switch almost immediately bore fruit for the 'home' team. As the combination lead to their opening goal on 68 minutes.
Philadelphia were fairly comfortable overloading down their right hand side pretty much all evening. The experienced duo of Bedoya and Gaddis have an excellent understanding. Bedoya will drift out wide and tuck in when Gaddis goes on the overlap. This tactic worked pretty well for them, particularly during the first 45. It allowed them largely to nullify the threat of Nani and João Moutinho.
This was far from Nani's finest evening. Aside from a moment of magic for the equaliser (more on that later) the talismanic Portuguese was unable to effect the game much. He was dispossessed on 3 separate occasions before even starting a dribble (figure 3). Whilst also recording the lowest passing accuracy rate of the whole team (64.9%). He cut a frustrated figure for much of the game.
Figure 1 Philadelphia were focusing many of their attacks down the right flank, particularly with Gaddis and Bedoya in the first 45.
The movements of Bedoya and Gaddis down the right also provided effect outlets for the lively Brendan Aaronson throughout the game. Aaronson was able to find small pockets of space in both central and wide areas for the Union (see figure 1). This allowed the youngster to get into some dangerous area for his team. He should have given Philadelphia the lead in the first half, and generally proved himself an attacking threat all evening.
Figure 2 The Union were overloading down their right wing, which seriously affected the time and space Nani had to effect the game.
This overload down the right hand side (figure 2) was undoubtedly a contributing factor towards Nani's poor performance. It allowed the likes of Bedoya, Gaddis and Creavalle to double up on the former Manchester United man. The frustration was clear as Nani had to go deeper and deeper to get on the ball. But when he did, he just wasn't able to get anything going. Nani only completed 24 of 37 attempted passes. Moutinho often got up well in support, but often found the path to goal blocked. Though, it has to be said, Moutinho's crossing from deeper areas was excellent all evening. The former LAFC man delivered 5 dangerous looking crosses into the Union penalty area (figure 4).
Figure 3 Nani and Moutinho accounted for only 2 key passes in the entire game, compared to 4 against NYCFC.
Figure 4 Nani had the lowest passing accuracy rate in the whole team.
Orlando on the overload, a concern for Jim Curtin
Whilst the Union undoubtedly had joy overloading down the right flank, the same cannot be said of the left hand side for Jim Curtin's team. Kai Wagner often doesn't get forward, which actually suited them well. Ruan and Mueller didn't have as much space to exploit (figure 5). This meant that Ruan was being forced to get more crosses over from deep positions, whilst Cash Money Mueller just wasn't really able to impact the game at all.
Figure 5 Wagner often stays back and doesn't get forward a whole lot, which suited Philadelphia in this game.
One notable facet of Orlando's play, was there willingness to overload the opposition penalty area with bodies every time the ball went out wide. Something Curtin was wary of coming in to the game. And honestly, I love to see it. Orlando teams of the past have been overly cautious whilst simultaneously being tactically naive. A very, erm, dangerous 'tactic'. Born of incompetence. The same certainly cannot be said of this team. Orlando overload the area because they know they have wide players with the capability to deliver dangerous crosses. As a result of this they genuinely look menacing every time they go forward.
Nani as we have already discussed, had a poor evening by his exceptionally high standards. But you have to keep him on the pitch, as he has the miraculous ability to produce a moment of game changing magic. Which is exactly what he did on 69 minutes. The Portuguese made the most of Orlando's overload tactic by finding Mauricio Pereyra's near post run, to haul City level. Just note how many white shirts are moving into the area for the equaliser (figure 6). Everyt time the ball goes wide, the player in possession has options. This hasn't always been the case for this team. And i'm not trying to make this sound like an idiosyncratic notion; it's a really simple concept in football. But it is something that has been conspicuous only in its absence over recent years. Particularly during James O'Connor's reign.
Figure 6 Orlando loved to flood the box each time the ball went wide, and looked genuinely menacing whilst doing so.
A draw was probably the right result
I don't think there can be too many arguments here. And nor should there be. Philadelphia are an excellent team, who will no doubt be one of our play-off rivals when the regular season gets going again. Both teams played to win, but probably cancelled one another out ultimately. Orlando went toe to toe with another very good football team, and more than matched them. This has to be so pleasing for Oscar Pareja. Perhaps even more so for us fans. James O'Connor's team last season would have lost this game. Just look at the statistics in figure 7. Orlando had more touches, completed more dribbles and attempted a lot more passes. The team lead in blocks, interceptions and faced fewer shots on frame. This is a team that is defensively robust and supremely well organised. As well as being threatening on the offensive side of the ball.
During ESPN's commentary, Taylor Twellman touted Orlando as genuine tournament contenders. And it's easy to see why. We mustn't get carried away, but the early signs for Oscar Pareja's Orlando City are very promising.
Figure 7 Orlando more than matched their opponents in almost every area of play.
Much improved performance for Antonio Carlos
One of the most pleasing performances on the field for Orlando City was the much more assured display from Orlando's on-loan defender. The Brazilian looked calmer in possession with a 90% pass completion rate from an attempted 40 passes. This was key in helping Orlando to play out from the back, particularly with Junior Urso hobbling out of the game early, and with Sebas Mendez perhaps not being at his best.
On the defensive side of the ball Carlos completed 2 interceptions, 5 clearances and blocked 1 shot. He didn't complete any tackles, but if study his tape you can see that's because he was often snuffing out attacks before it got that far. He was also very unlucky not to open the scoring on 65 minutes, when his header cannoned back off the bar. Very solid performance.
Loss of Junior Urso a huge blow
Junior Urso started the game exceptionally brightly, almost giving the Lions an early lead with a rasping drive from distance. He also forced Andre Blake into an early save before pulling up with injury. His off the ball movement was exceptional. There have been a few dissenters on social media, who have questioned the Brazilian's early influence on this team. But this brief spell in the game, for me, highlighted the immense potential he has with this club. If you look at the positions he got himself into, particularly when out of possession, you begin to understand his importance to this team (figure 8). He's always available for a pass. And that is so important for a team who wants to play out from the back, and who doesn't want to resort to route 1 tactics.
Figure 8 Though his appearance was brief, Urso started well. His heatmap shows just how much he hustled out of possession whilst always making himself available for a pass. Unlucky not to open the scoring.
The Uruguayan was Orlando's best attacking player last night, and he took his goal well. Hopefully there will be many more to come for Orlando City. The former Krasnodar player looked dangerous in possession (completed 87% of 54 passes, many of which were forward balls). Timed his run into the box for the equaliser perfectly.
Gallese -7- Looked as solid as ever. Didn't have to do a whole lot, but what he did do he did in a calm and assured manner.
Ruan -7- Typically energetic and robust performance. Didn't has as much space as he is used to due to Wagner's performance.
Moutinho -7- Defensively very solid, and provided some excellent crosses into the box.
Jansson -7- Typically resilient performance. Took a few knocks, but he's a warrior. Nothing keeps him down for long.
Carlos -7- Much improved. Looked defensively very capable. Unlucky not to get on the score sheet.
Urso -7- Was unfortunately subbed on 15 minutes due to injury. He had started very brightly and nearly got Orlando on the board after 11 minutes.
Pereyra -8- Orlando's star man, looks to be finding his rhythm in purple.
Rosell -6- Capable performance but looked tired at times.
Nani -6- Not the Portuguese's finest evening for Orlando. Excellent cross for the goal, but got caught in possession far too often.
Akendele -7- Acquitted himself well, energetic and perhaps unlucky not to add to his goal vs NYCFC.
Mueller -6- Never hit the heights during this game. 110% effort as usual.
Mendez -6- Thought he struggled to effect the game much at all.
Michel -6- Energetic put only attempted 2 passes in 20 minutes of action.
Patino -6- Only on the field for 8 minutes. Hardly got a kick.
Perea -6- Provided a boost of energy,but didn't have much time to effect things.
Broadcast images courtesy of ESPN.