While it wasn’t the result Orlando City wasn’t excepting to finish with, a 1-1 draw in Chicago is, by all means, a significant upgrade for a team that came into the match with a 14 game losing skid on the road.
It was cold, rainy, and looked downright miserable in Bridgeview on Saturday, and although a C.J. Sapong header in the 95th-minute of stoppage time ruined the day for the Lions and took away two points from them, it’s hard not to be at least somewhat satisfied with the result. Now, Orlando City comes back home to host the Montreal Impact on Saturday with two points through their first two games of the season, considering they finished 2018 with just six points from 15 games.
So let’s go beyond the 1-1 scoreline and take a closer look at this one.
The Starting XI
Your City starting XI taking on the @ChicagoFire in the Windy City!
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) March 9, 2019
Aside from Nani getting the start up top in place of Chris Mueller, James O’Connor did make changes from the squad that lined up against NYCFC.
Although the lineup remained pretty much unchanged, the game plan was different from the start. Last week, Orlando pressed high, bringing their center backs over the midfield line often and pushing NYCFC back into their own half. It was quite the opposite for this match, with Orlando sitting back, being forced to play through the wings and go over the top whenever possible. Going up against Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger in the midfield will do that to you.
This is everything Orlando did in the midfield in the first half:
Everything else was driven through the wings with Nani and Tesho Akindele (pre-injury) spending a lot of time playing out wide, tagging onto the wing-backs, trying to take advantage of Chicago’s weak full-back spots.
By the numbers
We knew coming into this game that the approach would be significantly different against Chicago than it was against New York City last weekend, and the stats clearly showed that. The Lions held just 40.8 percent of the possession — a massive drop from the 56 percent last weekend — and only attempted two shots in the entire match, both off the boot of Dom Dwyer, who took Orlando’s first shot of the afternoon in the 40th minute.
It’s worth pointing out, however, that despite the drop in possession, the Lions still only attempted 83 fewer passes compared to Week 1 (453 vs. 370). So the ball movement’s still there, even if it’s much quicker and far less patient.
There’s been a lot of wondering what kind of impact Nani would make (and rightfully so) when he’s finally integrated into the squad, and we’re already starting to see it: two games, two assists.
If there’s one thing that I can point to, it’s to show you just how important he’s going to be to the team this season and that’s his ability to recognize opportunities to create for the players around him.
Now, Dwyer also gets credit here for recognizing that Nani’s about to have the ball and takes off towards the goal before he even gets to float a ball over the back line. That’s the instincts of an All-Star striker. But also props to Nani for deciding to play that ball over before even seeing Dwyer taking off. That’s the kind of combined awareness you expect out of guys that have been playing together for a while, not two that have been together for less than 90 minutes.
Just wait until those two build some real chemistry.
This is an ambitious attempt to draw Ruan forward and burst past the left back, and at first, you’re probably thinking to yourself “there’s no way he gets to that ball,” but Nani knows Ruan has the speed to get there — and he does.
Of course, Ruan gets taken down on a hard tackle from behind, and the defender is sent off for it, and though that specific example didn’t directly lead to a goal-scoring opportunity, it’s the kind of vision and awareness that is going to make him very important for the Lions this season.
Going to battle with the press
We’ve talked about this before, O’Connor wants the play to play aggressive defensively, constantly pressing and pressuring on defense, and they did a great job at that against the Fire.
Will Johnson and Sebastián Méndez specifically were everywhere and constantly tracking the ball. Sacha Kljestan was in the same boat as well, while he wasn’t the biggest string-puller offensively, he was around the pitch, constantly moving and looking for opportunities to either get the ball or move it forward.
Here’s the passing chart for the three midfielders, which were forced to play much deeper this week with the Lions mostly sitting back:
High, low, inside or wide, they covered a lot of ground in this match, staying solid and in shape defensively. Chicago came out with a couple of hot chances in the first 20 minutes, but Orlando kept them mostly quiet for the rest of the match with a sound, well-rounded shape defensively until the backline got caught flat-footed in the final seconds to concede the game-tying goal.
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