Analysis: Toronto FC (a). Lacklustre Lions escape the north with a valuable point.
This was not, if I'm being brutally honest, a well deserved point for Oscar Pareja's team. Toronto were by far the better team throughout the 90 minutes. And when Jozy Altidore headed the in front, looked on their way to 3 valuable points. Only a rush of blood to the head from Alex Bono allowed Orlando back into the game. An horrendous challenge on Benji Michel, by the TFC 'keeper, handed Nani the chance to equalise from 12 yards. Make no mistake, Orlando did not play well. They were lackadaisical in possession, and seemed unwilling to take any real risks. A home game against Philadelphia looms, and Orlando will have to improve significantly to take the win from that particular encounter.
Orlando seemed to be their own worst enemies throughout the game, giving themselves little to no chance to play out from the back and establish any real offensive rhythm. Tesho Akindele was largely anonymous in attack, and failed to win many of the balls sent his way. Both full-backs seemed reluctant to cross the halfway line, which invited pressure from the likes of Yeferson Soteldo and Alejandro Pozuelo. It was very frustrating to watch. The only real positive was that Orlando were able to take a point. Somehow. Alas, the ability to pick up points whilst not playing well is the hallmark of a good team.
Lack of presence up front
This is going to sound like something of a Tesho bashing. And let me assure you, it's not. I have a huge amount of respect for Tesho Akindele in terms of the job he does. He's the Return of the Jedi of Orlando City strikers. He's OK, but not quite as good as what came before. Though he's no less important to the overall story. Daryl Dike is the Empire Strikes Back. Obviously. Duh. Tesho's performance in this game, though, was below par. And not in relation to someone like Dike, in relation to his role in this team.
What Tesho normally does is he holds the ball well, drops into space and pops it off to the supporting cast. His movement and hold-up just weren't there, as the following statistics will attest to; 19 touches, 15 passes (only 12 successful) 0 shots, 0 key passes, 0 tackles won, 0 interceptions. He is normally great at defending from the front, putting back-lines under pressure circa his goal against FC Cincinnati. There was hardly any of that during this game. Ordinarily he's very good at moving all along the front, and into those little pockets of space. During this game, however, his movement was almost static and was always toward the right hand side (figure 1). It was predictable, and easy to defend against.
The conundrum this helped to create for Orlando actually helped manifest their greatest issue. The lack of forward movement and effective hold-up meant Orlando were limited in terms of what I call the 'out ball'. When Orlando are facing a high press they often go long to the forwards, in an attempt to gain yards. It's almost like when a quarterback has an effective wide receiver when playing a slant. You can get out, over the top and then push up as a team. The trouble was, in this game, the ball was then coming right back at us. Normally, when this happens, we have the likes of Ruan to go through. Ruan will push right up as almost a second winger, which the forces the opposition to drop deeper. That outlet wasn't there, though. This point kinda provides a good segway into the next subsection, as the issue of Orlando not being able to get out in this game is actually two-fold...
Figure 1 shows Tesho Akindele's heatmap, whole 90.
The positioning of our full-backs
The secondary issue, in terms of Orlando's relative inability to get out of their own half in this game, lies in the wide areas. As I alluded to earlier, ordinarily our full-backs push high up the field. Our back four was often as flat as Sam Wilson's speech at the end of Falcon and the Winter Soldier. Great content, but flat delivery. Their line was so deep at times that it naturally invited pressure from TFC. To illustrate my point I want to compare our defense line's positioning across two different games. Now,I am aware that the two games depicted in the heatmaps below (figures 2 and 3) are completely different, but the premise is the same. If you push your full-backs further forward it's easier to pen the opposition in.
If you look at the aforementioned heatmaps (from the game against FC Cincinnati and Saturday's game), you'll be able to see what I'm talking about. Against Cincinnati, Ruan and Smith pushed up, and Orlando were able to maintain a high line and stop Cincinnati from breaking. Even when Cincinnati made forays forward and pushed up on Orlando, the full backs maintained that high position, and gave them a way to play the ball out from the back. Whereas Saturday, our full-backs were much deeper, as was the whole defensive line (figure 4). Pareja was, likely, worried about Soltedo et al exploiting the space the full-backs would leave. Which is a legitimate concern, but when you have athletic full-backs and defensive midfielders you can negate that issue. I always believe play-off teams should make the opposition worry about them first and foremost.
When you set up as Orlando did against Cincy, the defensive line can sit on the halfway line, and when you have ball playing central defenders as we do, they can dictate the play from there. In terms of this game, the risk of such a strategy would be turning the ball over and being punished by the likes of Soltedo. But no strategy is risk free, and with Mr Offside up top, a high-line isn't a foolhardy strategy against a team like Toronto, particularly with their defensive record. Going for the jugular should have been the order of the day.
Figure 2 shows the heatmap for Kyle Smith and Ruan against FC Cincinnati.
Figure 3 shows Kyle Smith's and Joao Moutinho's heatmap from the game against Toronto.
Figure 5 shows the positioning of Orlando's entire defensive line against Toronto.
What needs to happen next
It's Philadelphia up next, which is clearly a tough game. In terms of what Orlando needs to do next, the Layman's answer is a simple one. Play on the front foot. The likes of Alexandre Pato and Silvester Van Der Water could be available, so there's no reason that can't happen at a packed out Exploria Stadium.
To be honest, this was a toss up between El Capitao and Kyle Smith. Smith did a sterling job facing up Soteldo, though he was left on an island on more than one occasion. The accountant was up to the task. Nani pips it, just for being the only player seemingly with the willingness to take a risk. His goal helped the Lions to secure a valuable point. With 6 shots on goal, 3 on target, 1 key pass, 1 successful dribble and a goal the erstwhile Manchester United player was Orlando's biggest threat throughout this game. The Portuguese also did his share of defensive work with 1 tackle, 1 clearance and 1 interception. Kevin Kilbane, during the broadcast, incorrectly accused Nani of not doing his defensive work. You'll see from the heatmap in figure 5, that such a claim is wide of the mark. Whilst this wasn't Nani's greatest ever game for the Lions, it was certainly a solid enough performance.
Figure 5 shows Nani's heatmap, whole 90.
Gallese -6- It's good to have the big Peruvian back. Was hopelessly exposed for their goal, nothing he could do.
Smith -7- Until the equaliser, he seemed unwilling to cross the halfway line. Dealt with Soteldo well.
Jansson -6- Reasonably solid, but could have done better with the goal for me. Leaving Moutinho to mark Altidore wasn't a good decision.
Schlegel -6- Didn't put too much of a foot wrong. Fairly solid performance.
Moutinho -6- No chance against Altidore for the goal. Positioning was very deep throughout the game.
Mendez -6- He will be a big miss. Hopefully the injury is nothing serious.
Urso -6- Tackled back well, but his passing was off at times.
Nani -7- Seemed the only player willing to take any risks.
Pereyra -6- Bright in the first few minutes, but was very quiet from then on in.
Michel -6- Offered precious little out wide. He's a striker in my book.
Akindele -5- Didn't offer anything in terms of being an out ball. Movement and hold up play were non-existent.
Perea -6- Came in early, for Mendez, and knocked the ball around well.
Mueller -6- Offered a few good touches. Probably should have started.
Alvarado -6- Customary 1 minute appearance at the end.
DeZart -6- See above.
Rosell -5- I'm a fan of his, but a 40% pass success rate from 5 passes says it all. Was in for the last 10.
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