Orlando City boldly strengthened their chances of lifting the 2020 MLS Supporters Shield with a 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls. A victory, if truth be told, that should have been much easier than it ultimately was. This was always going to be a tough game for the Lions; though they could, and should, have made it much easier for themselves when they went two up. Goals from Daryl Dike and Junior Urso seemed to have put Oscar Pareja's team in a commanding position. However, an incredibly fortunate, Florian Valot goal ensured a nervy finish. The threat of conceding an equaliser was very real. The threat was only quelled deep into stoppage time when Antonio Carlos made the game safe, after VAR overturned an incorrect offside call.
Orlando City showed two sides of their game against the Red Bulls: both could help them contend in the play-offs
I feel the term 'game of two halves' is becoming something of a cliché, at least as far as Orlando City are concerned. The first 45 minutes was all about Orlando's tempo. They attacked the Red Bulls goal with a real fervour. They were confident, bordering on arrogant as they carved the Red Bulls defence open at will. This spilled over into the second half, the Lions doubled their lead. From the 54th minute, after Florian Valot became the beneficiary of soccer pinball in the Orlando penalty area, the tide changed. The Red Bulls began to turn the screw, and could easily have found themselves level, if not for profligate finishing and inspired defending. The Lions never lost their composure. There was a steely grit and determination present. A belief that their defence would hold true. Such a belief, when combined with the attacking prowess that was on display, could very well see this team to glory. Sooner rather than later, too.
Why do we need to have a scapegoat?
Seriously. The vitriol, yes vitriol, used to describe Kamal Miller in the aftermath of this game... It was out of order. And unnecessary. We are talking about a young defender who completed 92% of his 50 passes on Saturday. A defender who completed 2 tackles, 2 interceptions and 4 clearances (figure 1). He had a solid 7 out of 10 game. Whoscored.com had him rated at 6.94. Scrolling through Twitter on Saturday, you'd honestly think he'd well and truly pooped the bed. Could he have done better with that clearance? Probably. He will know that. He's a young guy, who is improving all of the time. If people want to take issue with that, then please do. You know the usual channels.
We seem to have something of an alarming scapegoat culture within this supporter base. And I don't believe that's unfair of me to say. The scapegoat has taken many forms over recent years. Brian Rowe. Kyle Smith. Will Johnson. Dom Dwyer. OK, that's probably a bad example. Dom doesn't help himself at times. But, you get my point. It's not necessary. Especially not for a young guy like Miller. A guy with real, tangible, potential. Getting on his back, @ing him for mistakes... Even heckling him. It helps no one. Players ought to be held accountable, of course. When it's called for. Not because it's the 'in' thing.
Figure 1 shows Kamal Miller's defensive stats from this game. Compare them to the rest of the team.
Goals, goals and more goals!
Do you ever get the feeling you're just living in this dystopian reality? Where everything is so immaculately perfect it makes you want to weep openly, whilst cuddling your Orlando City jersey like it's the answer to all your hopes and dreams? Of course not, that's silly. It's 2020. There will be a plague of locusts coming any minute now, to tear it thread from thread. Right down to its last atom. Be that as it's may, let's just enjoy the moment. Orlando City are scoring goals for fun. Their 28 goals from 15 games, has them listed as top scorers in the east. And third overall, behind only Seattle and LAFC.
Orlando are scoring goals for fun. I don't get bored of saying it. They look capable of scoring goals every time they charge forward. The goals are being shared all over the field too. A striker, a midfielder and a defender all scored on Saturday. In that order. Long may it continue. The team are also absolutely clinical. Orlando had 5 shots on goal in this game, 2 of which were off target. The other 3 found the back of the Red Bull net (figure 2).
Despite all of that. This probably wasn't the most complete performance you'll see from Orlando City this season. Particularly during the second half, the game became quite a disjointed affair. Pass completion rates of 80% and 78% for Orlando and the Red Bulls tells its own story. And sometimes, football is like that. It's important to remain calm, remain organised and to take your chances when they come. Games such as this are common place in knockout soccer. The ability to come through such tight affairs will be key, if indeed, Orlando are to win silverware come the end of the season.
Figure 2 shows how Orlando's finishing was clinical in this game.
I think this definitely qualifies as an 'unpopular opinion'. Honestly? I couldn't care less. Kyle Smith has been the butt of so many jokes, from certain corners of this supporter base, for too long now. When Ruan went down injured the other week, it was as though the worst possible fate had befallen Orlando City. According to some anyway. Oh my f****** god. Kyle Smith will have to start at right-back! Panic stations everyone! It needs to stop. Is Kyle Smith the best right-back in MLS? No, of course not. Is he a very capable right-back, in this league? Absolutely. He completed 7 tackles, 2 interceptions and 1 clearance. His positional sense and leadership were commendable. He often got forward to fairly positive effect as well; his 1 key pass and 5 attempted crosses back that notion up. Sure, I could've picked Chris Mueller, Daryl Dike or Junior Urso... But how about we show the accountant some love?
Gallese -7- Unfortunate to lose his clean sheet. Looked a little shaky on one or two occasions, but more than made up for it with several smart stops.
Smith -8- Very solid performance from a player who is often much maligned.
Schlegel -7- I recently said he was a walking red card. He was very composed, however.
Jansson -7- Made some crucial interventions as Orlando hung on to their lead.
Miller -7- Will receive some criticism for the clearance that lead to the goal, but that's harsh. He looked fairly solid for much of this game.
Urso -7- Took his goal well and supplied some incisive passes.
Perea -7- Staked his claim for Mendez's spot well.
Nani -7- His experience and know how is so understated. Knew exactly when to calm an increasingly frenetic affair.
Mueller -7- Should've done better with a couple of chances. He never gives up though.
Pereyra -6- Was a blow to lose him so early.
Dike -7- Was great to see him back amongst the goals.
Carlos -7- Great to see the big Brazilian back on the field. Pleased he was able to grab a goal too.
DeJohn -6- Came in and did what was required.
Michel -7- Looks better all the time. Intelligent play for the third goal.
Loera -6- Not enough time to make a substantial impression.
DeZart -6- May get more of a chance in the coming weeks, didn't harm his chances at all in this game.
*Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com