At no point during Orlando City‘s 2-2 draw against the Philadelphia Union on Sunday did it feel like the Lions were truly being overrun by the home side despite being out-possessed by nearly 24 percentage points, out-shot 21-7, and passing the ball over 200 fewer times.
James O’Connor made nine changes to his starting lineup from Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to the Union at Exploria Stadium, setting a lineup to play much more conservatively and defensive in a 5-3-2 formation relying on taming the Union’s width and punch up the middle of the field, a game plan that served importantly in helping the Lions leave Philadelphia with a point in hand.
Let’s take a deeper dive into the style of play and other thoughts from the match.
Owning their game plan
Orlando knew after Wednesday’s match that they had to do a better job of Philadelphia out wide and keeping their forwards from having too much space in the middle of the field, so O’Connor had them coming out in a 5-3-2 this time around for the rematch.
The Lions absorbed a ton of pressure through the first 30 minutes and outside of one moment four minutes in when Marco Fabian scored on an unmarked header in the middle of the box, they defended well and limited the Union’s dangerous chances.
We haven’t seen the 5-3-2 much over the last couple of months as Orlando has evolved and become a better defensive and possession-based team in the 4-3-3, but it was an ideal formation for the way that they had approached this match.
The Lions didn’t see a ton of possession until later in the first half when they started to play out of the back and less direct, focusing more on possession than quick counters. The 5-3-2 works better for possession because it spreads the centerbacks and pushes the wing-backs, creating more width to move the ball around.
As shown above, Shane O’Neill, Alex De John, and Kamal Miller have spread far apart, giving De John a few different options to start the possession forward. Uri Rosell drops back to get the ball and slips it over to Miller, who starts a break before he losses the ball and possession down the sideline.
That’s just how it operates on offense.
Defensively, it allows the Lions to stay compact and clog the middle of the field, leaving space on the wings because that’s the least dangerous area and they can easily close on those players when the ball goes out, as we can see here in the ensuing Philadelphia possession moments after Miller losses the ball.
All five defenders have dropped back into line and the midfielders have shifted towards the ball. If the play switches sides, they’re fine because those midfielders can just shift back with the ball.
This possession ended with the Union trying a ball over the top which was brought in by Brian Rowe, clearing any danger.
Despite being down the early goal, the Lions remained calm and owned this game plan throughout the first half before slowing trying to break the mold and level more into their normal style as the game went on. Eventually, it created more chances and helped keep the game close enough for the Lions to take the lead in the second half on a pair of set pieces.
Some more thoughts from the match
I liked the approach the Lions took in this match. They never tried to play themselves into a corner. I would never say that a team should play for anything less than a win, but the way this game was staged they would have felt pretty good about taking even just a point on the road from the best team in the Eastern Conference.
The Lions never pressed when the Union had the ball, they gave them all the space they needed to attack and move the ball across the field while standing their ground outside of two moments at both the start and end of the match.
Orlando didn’t try to match Philadelphia’s level of play like they did on Wednesday night. Instead, they lett the Union do their best to break them down before introducing their attacking style as the match wore on. It was a much more patient game plan than what we had seen in the first meeting, and ultimately it paid off in the end despite the gut-punching finish.
Benji Michel has shown a lot of promise in his handful of playing time this season. While he didn’t have a whole lot to do throughout this match, he had a few moments that showed his flash, including this moment that stuck out the most.
This run shown below led to the foul and free-kick that created Dom Dwyer‘s game-tying goal.
Alejandro Beyoda can not contain Santiago Patino.
His strength is so impressive, I know I’ve said it before but he’s going to make a great center forward with bullying center backs being his strength. If the goal-scoring sense continues to develop, he’s going to be very good for quite some time.
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