We’ve reached the first marker of the season as we head into April with Orlando City coming off of a 1-2-2 start to open up the season in March and while it still feels like we’re trying to figure out who the Lions are, we’re starting to see some signs — both positive and negative.
Saturday’s 4-3 comeback win over the Colorado Rapids was a perfect example of that. We saw the Lions look shaky in the back at times and let three goals leak in; we saw them fall behind at two separate points in the match and show their lion spirit to fight back; and we finally saw an offense live up to its potential with the Lions’ first four-goal game in over a year, and their highest scoring match since Aug. 4, of last season.
It was, for the most part, the kind of match we came into the season expecting to see a lot of this season — exciting goals and defensive mistakes.
Let’s take a deep look at the match in this weeks Beyond the Scoreline:
The Starting XI
— Orlando City SC (@OrlandoCitySC) April 6, 2019
Only a couple of changes from James O’Connor in this week’s starting lineup, with Carlos Ascues moving to the backline after Shane O’Neill was dropped from the lineup. Tesho Akindele, making his first appearance since suffering an early hamstring injury against Chicago in week two, was the only new face in the lineup, swapping in for O’Neill.
It was an interesting approach from Orlando — and one we really needed to see — as they came into the weekend having created the most chances in the league, but only converted six of them through five games. Bringing back Akindele up top and sliding Nani down into the midfield with Sacha Kljestan and Sebastian Mendez sent the signal early that the Lions were going to come out gunning and looking to finally put a big number on the board.
It took longer they would have liked, but they found their offensive production.
Changing up the back line in-game
Already down 1-0, O’Connor was forced to make an early sub in the 30th minute when Ascues had to come out. Instead of bringing in another center back off the bench — like Kamal Miller — O’Connor opted to bring in Uri Rosell and change the shape from a 5-3-2 to a 4-4-2, and that hurt the Lions defensively going forward, and it really came to light on both of Colorado’s goals in the second half.
We’ll start with Nicolas Mezquida’s open header in the 61st minute:
The 5-3-2 works well because when the wingbacks go forward, the defensive midfielders can slide back and covering open space on the wings until the can appropriately rotate. That doesn’t happen on either Colorado goal after the Lions changed their formation.
In the gif below, Joao Moutinho is caught high up the field, and normally we should see one of the midfielders — in this case Kljestan — track over to the wing to pick up Cole Bassett. Instead, Kljestan closes in on the ball and tries to win it back, leaving Bassett with enough real estate to build another Disney expansion.
Because of that, Robin Jansson is drawn out to the wing, exposing the Lions in the middle of the penalty area and leaving Lamine Sane and Ruan with too much ground to cover by themselves. Sane then gets pulled to the near post by Kei Kamara, and that sets up Mezquida for the easy open header to level the score.
Fast forward to the next goal 10 minutes later: exact same problem. Moutinho is caught up the field and as he’s tracking back, he either forgets about Bassett alone on the wing or thinks someone else is there to cover this time, so he breaks in towards Benny Feilhaber to win the ball back, just like Kljestan did. Again, that forces Jansson out to Bassett, and instead of sending in a cross Bassett goes for the goal himself and takes advantage of Jansson having to change direction on the spot.
It’s becoming more evident that while this year’s team is better at defending when they’re forced out of their comfort zones — which in this case is the 5-3-2 — things tend to fall apart and the Lions struggle to stay in shape, as they’ve been able to do well throughout the season.
In this game, the Lions changed their shape without changing how they played and it made their mistakes much more costly.
Some other things of note
The early front-runner for Whiff of the Year is Dom Dwyer, who missed this sitter from three yards out. Dwyer’s lucky this didn’t matter because of the handball on the play and Nani’s ensuing penalty kick goal.
But man, that’s just brutal — and par for the course for the kind of shots Dwyer has been skying this season.
Ruan is all of us when Nani’s first goal went in.
Speaking of Ruan, he was arguably one of the best players on the field for Orlando throughout the night. The Lions went through Moutinho a lot last week but took advantage of Colorado’s weak left side in this game. He was creating chance after chance, dribbling around defenders with ease, and covered a ton of ground on the right side of the pitch while playing a rather high line, even after the Lions went to four in the back and he had more responsibility to track back.
It’s becoming part of their identity to have those wingbacks bombing forward and its allowed guys like Moutinho and Ruan to shine so far. Ruan was able to take advantage of Colorado’s weak fullback spot on the right, while Moutinho had his challenges against Keegan Rosenberry, but still managed to create a handful of chances from the left side.
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