Analysis: Toronto FC (h). Game of two halves, as Orlando City battles to a huge win.
A huge night for Orlando City, culminated in the acquisition of another massive 3 points for this team. This hard fought win, over a Toronto side that is better than it's position in the standings suggests, temporarily lifted Orlando to 1st place in the East. This was a game that was pulsating to watch, and nerve wracking to endure. At times, Orlando threatened to blow their 'visitors' away. TFC seem to have made themselves at home in Orlando, so much so that they feel comfortable enough to try and claim it as their own on social media. It was far from a comfortable evening for the Canadian club on Saturday, however. As Orlando wasted chance, after chance; whilst putting on a display of fluid, attacking football. Orlando's inability to put the game beyond Toronto, meant for a nervy second period however. At 2 a.m., my stress levels were high. Really high.
Toronto had spells, during the second half, when they threatened to undo all of Orlando City's good work. The 1-0 lead given to them by Tesho Akindele, off of some wonderful wing play from Silvester Van Der Water, never quite looked absolutely safe. That being said, Orlando's defence stood strong. There were very few goalscoring opportunities for the Reds, and on the rare occasions they found their way through, Pedro Gallese was more than a match for them. Some inspired saves, late in the game, from El Pulpo secured a valuable win for our Lions.
A case for the defence
Orlando's offensive struggles have been well documented. The continued absences of Alexandre Pato and Daryl Dike, the inability of Matheua Aiás to break in to the team and some patchy form from Tesho Akindele, have all led to something of a goalscoring malaise. With only 7 goals scored, the Orlando City forwards aren't exactly setting the world alight. Although, it has to be said, signs are encouraging. We are creating chances, we just need to start taking them. Anyway, despite their lack of efficiency in front of goal, Oscar Pareja's team find themselves nestled in 5th place in the Supporters Shield standings (at the time of writing). How? Their defence.
Orlando City's defence is now widely acknowledged as one of the best in the league. And rightly so. Saturday night's shut-out was their 4th in 6 games. Only 2 goals have been conceded during that time. Only 1 of those was from open play, and the other was a penalty. Both were individual errors. Through 6 games in 2021, no team has yet been able to carve Orlando apart. So far this season, Orlando have allowed 11.2 shots per game. Only 5 teams have allowed fewer shots on goal, and only 4 have allowed fewer shots inside the 18-yard-box (on average) than Orlando's 6.5. Whoscored.com has them rated as the 5th most effective defensive unit in MLS through 6 games, behind only New England Revolution, Philadelphia Union, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Kansas City.
Figure 1 shows the best defensive teams in MLS according to whoscored.com.
It's not just as a team, that Orlando City have impressed defensively either. Both Kyle Smith and Rodrigo Schlegel are listed in the top 10 for blocks, clearances and tackles (figures 2, 3 and 4) for all defenders that have played 5 games or more. Orlando City defenders have been putting up impressive numbers of late; the game against Toronto was no different (figure 5). And all without 2 of their first choice back-line, in João Moutinho and Ruan. Orlando City have become one of the best defensive teams in North America. If they can just add a few more goals, early signs are that we're looking at a team that can genuinely challenge on all fronts.
Figure 2 shows Kyle Smith and Rodrigo Schlegel are in the top 10 for total tackles per game across the league.
Figure 3 again for blocked shots per game.
Figure 4 and again for total clearances per game.
Figure 5 shows the Orlando back-line's defensive statistics for the whole 90 against Toronto.
The flying Dutchman
No, not the weird looking pirate ship from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Silvester Van Der Water. His trickery and pace had many of the TFC defenders flirting with a trip to Davy Jones's locker, however. Hardy, ha. Me mateys. VDW was a constant threat, throughout this enthralling encounter. The Dutch winger seems to have a touch of the Marc Overmars about him, with blistering pace on the half-turn and close ball control. He had 29 touches overall, 3 shots, 1 dribble and 2 drawn fouls. He pestered Kemar Lawrence, and left the TFC full-back for dead on 11 minutes. He then bamboozled Chris Mavinga before whipping a perfect cross into the area, which Akindele duly headed home.
The enigmatic former Heracles Almelo man was full of running, as you'll see from his heatmap in figure 6. He covered a lot of ground. Van Der Water seemed to relish switching from right to left in this fluid set-up (more on that later), as well as playing through the middle. This allowed him to get into a number of dangerous positions. Much of the chatter before the game, surrounded how Orlando would cope without their talismanic skipper, Luis Nani. On the evidence of this game, any future absences on the part of El Capitao might not be shrouded in such trepidation. Solid debut for the new boy.
Figure 6 shows Silvester Van Der Water's heatmap for the whole 90.
Orlando's use of a fluid system
One thing I noticed, at times, during the game was how Orlando seemed to flit between a 4-2-3-1 and a 3-5-2 during moments of defensive and offensive transition. This seemed to nullify the threat of both Toronto's full-backs. What was happening was Chris Mueller was dropping into a left-wing back position, whilst Kyle Smith pushed up on the opposite flank. Silvester Van Der Water was then almost playing as a second striker with Mauricio Pereira dropping into midfield. Jansson, Schlegel and Antonio Carlos then formed a formidable central 3. It was an interesting tactic, and one that proved effective in snuffing out space in the middle, whilst simultaneously creating space for Mueller and Smith on the flanks. If you look at the heatmap in figure 8, you'll see how well both players got up and down the line. This also prevented Lawrence and Richie Laryea having any real time and space. Effective tactic.
Figure 8 shows the heatmaps for Chris Mueller (left) and Kyle Smith (right), whole 90.
The Peruvian's game winning double-save at the end, was as valuable as a goal. It was a play that further underlined his status as the best goalkeeper in MLS. With 5 saves overall, he wasn't exactly overworked during the 90 minutes, but he came up clutch nduring vital moments. Toronto toiled to breakdown the dogged Orlando City defence time and time again, and ultimately only had 6 shots on target (Robin Jansson saved one), 2 of which came in the dying seconds for that superb double-save. None found their way past El . Gallese is the sort of 'keeper who wins you points. We are so lucky that he is a Lion. That's a 4th clean sheet in 6 now for El Pulpo. Long may that run continue.
Gallese -8- Was ultimately the difference maker for the Lions. Best goalkeeper in MLS.
Smith -7- Another positive performance from the accountant.
Antonio Carlos -7- Another superb display from the Brazilian.
Jansson -7- slotted back in to the team, like he'd never been away.
Schlegel -7- Is there anything that man can't do?
Urso -6- Was caught in possession a few times, but full of running as ever.
Mendez -7- Some of his passing was just ridiculously good.
Mueller -7- Probably his best game of the season, so far. Linked the play well, and seemed a little more confident in himself.
Pereira -7- Like Urso, got caught in possession a few times but also supplied some wonderful passes.
Van Der Water -7- Jinking run and cross for the goal. Looked very talented.
Akindele -7- That goal will do him the world of good. Attacked the space between the defenders well, and applied a great finish.
Perea -7- Carried the ball excellently. Really is a huge talent.
DeZart -6- Got about well, and helped see out the win.
Alvarado -6- A few good touches. Sensible play to help keep possession.
Michel -6- Drew a good save from Bono late-on.
*Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com