MLS Cup Play-Offs Analysis: Nashville (h). Orlando One Up On The Series.
When I sat down to watch this game, late on a crisp autumnal evening here in England, I was braced for a wild ride. After all, Orlando don't do things the easy way... Generally speaking. In the end, it was probably the easiest 1-0 win Orlando has ever experienced.
That being said, with the start Orlando made to this game, neutral bystanders would be hard pressed to argue that Orlando didn't deserve more than the Wilder Cartagena wondergoal that their first half efforts surely deserved.
A clutch of goal scoring opportunities were squandered by the likes of Duncan McGuire, Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo and Iván Angulo in particular. Former Nottingham Forest striker Sam Surridge produced, arguably, the miss of the season so far, but aside from that, Orlando were the dominant force.
As it happened the players strolled back to the locker rooms at halftime, with Orlando narrowly ahead. The second half was much of a muchness. Orlando continued to dominate the contest, but were unable to add to that solitary goal. Chances aplenty went awry, whilst there was more than a touch of good fortune as Teal Bunbury headed wide when it looked easier to score. That was too close.
This was a thoroughly deserved victory for Orlando, that probably should have been more comfortable than it was. With no aggregate scoring in this format, it doesn't really matter. A win in Nashville next week and we are there.
Wilder Cartagena and Cesar Araujo
Peruvian international Cartagena will rightly take all the plaudits for his exceptional goal, but his overall play, in a game where Orlando dominated possession for long periods, was crucial to establishing the team's dominance. He and Araujo acted as a conduit in the midfield as absolutely everything went through them. Unfortunately, former Al Ittihad Kalba midfielder Cartagena had to be substituted on 62 minutes, on what's understood to be a precautionary basis.
Prior to that, he completed 84% of his 32 passes. Look at the passing network graphic in figure 1, which shows how much of the play was going through Wilder and Cesar. Similarly, Araujo also had a superb game. The Uruguayan completed 89% of his 64 passes. Both were doing a great job of recycling the ball from back to front, collecting the ball from the defenders and moving it between the lines as Orlando built their attacks out from the back. Nashville stood off a lot, and didn't press the home side much, which is why they played almost twice as many passes (402-256), maintaining 58% of the overall play.
Figure 1 shows Orlando's passing network, whole 90.
Based on the post-match discourse on X, this isn't getting spoken about enough... Mauricio Pereyra was everywhere last night. He was excellent in possession and linked up very well with the rest of the attacking unit. He might be the only number 10 in MLS that doesn't score, but his role is still an important one. He was often the pass before the key pass; that being said he created a whopping 7 chances, including 1 big chance (figure 2).
He drifted in and out of the pockets, mobilising all across the front line. If you look back at the passing network in figure 1, you can see how well he linked up with the likes of Angulo and Torres. Despite his lack of goals (and even assists) he is a key piece in this attack.
Figure 2 shows some key statistics for Mauricio Pereyra, whole 90.
Making use of the wide areas
Orlando have been doing a great job of this in general lately. With Dagur Dan Þórhallsson and Rafael Santos in the full-back positions they're able to stretch the pitch, which is particularly useful when playing against a low-block as Nashville were utilising. The full-backs taking up wide positions, allows the likes of Angulo and Torres to invert and take advantage of the pockets of space that open up when Orlando spread the play (figure 3).
But what I like most about our wide play at the moment is that, during moments of transition, Angulo and Torres will peel wide (figure 4) and then the full-backs will either invert and attack the half-space or they'll run on the overlap, providing options either which way.
They're not afraid to switch the point of attack.
Figure 3 is a game still from the second half.
Figure 4 is a game still from the second half.
We've already spoken about his overall performance, but that goal... Wow. It's a great strike. According to MLSsoccer.com, the strike had an expected goals score of 2.77%. Cartagena's overall XGOT was 0.52... In short, he had no business scoring from there. But, he did. What a goal. Match winner.
Gallese -7- Key stops at vital times.
Þórhallsson -7- Got lucky in the second half but played well overall.
Schlegel -7- Solid performance.
Jansson -7- Distributed the ball well.
Santos -8- Got up and down well.
Araujo -8- Made things tick.
Cartagena -8- Banger.
Torres -8- Constant threat.
Pereyra -8- One of his best performances of the year.
Angulo -8- Constant thorn in their side.
McGuire -6- Not as involved as he would like to be.
Smith -6- Looked solid.
Antonio Carlos -6- Helped to see the game out.
Urso -7- Filled in well.
Felipe -6- Came in very late.
Enrique -7- Provided fresh energy.
Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja
"I thought we had a good game, especially in that first half where we connected much more in the final third and then we created many options. We could have probably been more precise and opened the game more, but the game was tight especially against Nashville. They placed a lot of players in their final third and it was difficult for us to break it up, but it is a task for us to accomplish. We just need to be more precise in that last part of the field, so we don’t need to suffer that much. Second half, I thought we controlled the game. We had a couple options and a few options that could have given us more peace to not finish the game that tight. We recognized Nashville was throwing bodies in front and so we became that line of five in the last few minutes and just gave us energy. The boys that came on in the second half, as well, gave us a hand to control the game. Happy for this first playoff win, but we have to get ready for the next one. The series is there [to win], and we will get ready for the next game in Nashville.”
Media availability footage courtesy of Orlando City SC.
Game stills courtesy of MLS/Apple TV.
Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando City SC.