During the build-up, this game was correctly touted as one of Orlando City's biggest tests of the season so far. Sporting Kansas City were flying high in the western conference, despite their recent 3-2 home reversal to FC Dallas. As we predicted in this blog, SKC lined up with a near full strength squad. This was a team desperate to get back to winning ways; they have lost their way somewhat after a strong start to the MLS regular season. Eyebrows were raised, in some quarters, when Orlando City made 5 changes to the side that dispatched Chicago at the weekend.
Orlando played a near perfect away performance during the first 45 minutes. The team pressed well, and in packs. There wasn't necessarily a Liverpool style, incessant press. Which was hardly surprising, given that the team had a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Kansas City earlier in the day. They pressed smart, though. Excellent English, I know. They pressed at the right times, hoping to force the defensive mistakes we know this SKC team are capable of. Orlando were defensively compact and lethal when their chances came. Oscar Pareja's team took control of the game towards the end of the first half with two expertly crafted goals, courtesy of two neat through balls from Ruan and Luis Nani. Tesho Akindele and Benji Michel were the beneficiaries.
It was the ultimate double sucker punch. You. Love. To. See. It.
The second half, however. Well, that was an altogether different kettle of fish. Orlando, again started the second half in sluggish fashion. SKC clawed their way back into the game courtesy of a Johnny Russell header. Orlando were very much on the ropes from that point on. The team looked leggy as they turned the ball over time and time again. There was, however, no shortage of desire and commitment. This ultimately got them over the line.
I don't want to seem hypercritical of the Lions' second half malaise. The travel was undoubtedly a telling factor, one that ultimately makes the win that much more impressive. They dug deep and ground out a valuable 3 points against a very good team. A two-and-a-half-hour flight is no way to prepare for a game of this magnitude. Whilst the performance levels may have dropped off during the second half, my admiration for this team only increased. This is a team that does not know when it is beaten. And to say that's a valuable commodity, would be akin to saying an Orlando summer is a bit warm. A huge understatement.
3-minute Orlando City double salvo puts the SKC defence and Dorothy (presumably) in a spin
Vince Lombardi once famously said 'obstacles are what you see when you take your eye off the goal'. For many in Orlando City circles, this game will have been seen as a huge obstacle. Sporting Kansas City, at home, are always a somewhat daunting prospect. That being said, it was one the players of Orlando City were clearly confident of overcoming. They game into this game with a clear game plan. In many ways, it was to be the archetypal away performance. For the first half at least. Keep it tight, don't give too much away and take your chances when they come. And boy, they didn't half do that.
Clinical is a word that's thrown around a lot in soccer circles. It's a cliché. Orlando City really were just that in this match. The boys in purple mustered only 2 efforts on target during a keenly contested first 45 minutes. That's all they needed.
It was excellent combination play and intelligent movement, between Ruan and Tesho Akindele, that got Orlando on the board. If you glance at the game still in figure 1, uou'll see how perfectly the Brazilian weights his pass. One consistent criticism of Ruan, from many Orlando City fans, has been his inconsistent end product. Not so here, the pass makes Tesho's decision for him. Most 'keepers would expect him to try and drive it across the goal. However, the ball is just slow enough to allow Tesho to set himself and see the space open up at the near post (figure 2). It's a great goal.
Figure 1 shows how perfectly placed Ruan's pass is.
Figure 2 highlights how much time and space Tesho had to choose his shot.
The second goal, and ultimate clincher, is even better. A long ball out from the back is expertly chested into the path of Andres Perea by Tesho. The young Colombian then pops the ball off to Nani on the left, who chips an exquisite pass right into the path of Benji Michel (figure 3). The young American then holds off a challenge before firing into the bottom corner. The pass is sublime. If Christian Pulisic plays that ball for Chelsea, it's on highlight reels for weeks. It's just world class. It's also, like Ruan's assist, perfectly weighted. He drops it on a sixpence for Benji; as the old English adage goes.
Figure 3 shows Nani's incredible dinked through ball for Benji.
Rodrigo Schlegel needs to cool it
Rodrigo. Buddy. You need to cool it. Aggression and passion are great assets on a soccer field, but controlled aggression is your friend. The Argentine defender picked up a yellow card in the first half. He felt aggrieved, and we could argue all day about the justness of the call. It's irrelevant. He very nearly earned himself a second yellow, by repeatedly remonstrating with the referee. A timely intervention from Nani probably saved the Racing loanee's blushes. A dismissal at that stage could have been potentially ruinous for Orlando.
I know you're not reading this Rodrigo, but if you are: chill. We love your passion, but don't let it overspill. You don't need to use passion for your strength. You're not a Sith Lord. Nope. I'm not even sorry about using yet another Star Wars reference.
How not to manage a 2-0 lead away from home
As we have already alluded to, there was a distinct drop off in quality for the second half. Again, I must stress, I don't want to be too harsh on them. Same-day travel is clearly a prevalent factor here, but look at figure 4. There were 12 total turnovers from the Lions, with 9 coming in the second half. If not for some sloppy forward play and profligate finishing, we could easily be talking about a different result right now. Food for thought.
Figure 4 highlights how often Orlando turned the ball over in the second half.
I think it's fair to say that there wasn't a clear and obvious, stand-out performer in this game. Luis Nani, though, proved his value to this team yet again. Whilst not his greatest performance in purple, he still impacted the game in a very positive way. His dinked pass for Michel, allowed the young forward to bustle his way into the penalty area and put the Lions two goals to the good.
Overall, Nani had a pass completion rate of 67.7% from 31 attempted pass. He was 3 for 3 on attempted long balls. He played 3 key passes, 1 being the assist for Michel. He was 1 for 1 on successful dribbles. He also got through some work in the defensive third, completing 2 clearances and generally doing a good job of dropping into space when needed. He also showcased excellent leadership skills when ushering away Rodrigo Schlegel, when the Argentine was doing his level best to pick up a second caution.
Gallese -6- Didn't have a whole lot to do, but made a smart stop late on to keep the score at 1-2.
Ruan -6- Like much of the team he was much better in the first half than the second. Excellent assist for the opener.
Smith -6- Got dunked on for the goal, but didn't do much wrong aside from that.
Jansson -7- His usual dependable self, didn't do much wrong.
Schlegel -6- Did OK, but he really needs to control his temper. Walking red card.
Mendez -6- Turned the ball over a number of times in the second half. Was in imperious form in the first half.
Perea -6- Struggled to maintain possession in the second half. Seemed really leggy.
Urso -6- Similar to Perea, seemed to burnout after half-time.
Nani -7- Absolute peach of a ball for Michel to score the second. Showed great leadership when ordering Schlegel away from the referee.
Michel -7- Was always an outlet, and took his goal well.
Akindele -6- Not his best performance in purple, but took the goal well. Pleased for him.
Pereyra -6- Came in and settled the midfield down well at a time when the game was slipping from the Lion's grip.
DeJohn -6- Couple of crucial blocks.
Mueller -6- Fresh legs at a key time.
Dike -6- Decent hold up, probably should have scored with a late drive from the top of the D.
All game stills courtesy of FS1.