Orlando City became one of the first two teams to punch their ticket to the knockout round of the MLS is Back Tournament on Tuesday night thanks to a 3-1 win over New York City FC that assured the club one of the top two spots in Group A alongside the Philadelphia Union.
Chris Mueller, who’s been on fire in this tournament, opened the game with a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes, setting a bit of club history in doing so.
With the victory, the Lions improved to 2-1-1 on the year, and Mueller pushed his goal total to four in four games, setting him atop the league in goals scored so far on this all-things-considered short season.
Orlando City, for the first time in over two years, has won back-to-back league games. That hasn’t happened since Jason Kreis was the head coach, and that was at the end of the six-game winning streak that ended as the demise of the former NYCFC boss started.
The Lions are entertaining to watch. It’s only been two games, so there’s a long way to go, but these are promising times for the club in the early days of the Oscar Pareja era.
How did the Lions get the job done against the reigning Eastern Conference champions? Let’s go beyond the scoreline to figure that out…
The midfield engine
Because the sample sizes are still small (we’ve only seen Orlando City play four games under Pareja), it’s hard to truly judge just how influential the new skipper has been on his side this season, but that he’s been influential is undeniable after Tuesday night’s contest.
Junior Urso started his post-game press conference by telling reporters that he was thankful for the opportunity to start after he “didn’t play well in the first game,” and he surely followed that Inter Miami game up with a solid performance as part of a midfield trio that contributed immensely in the attack against NYCFC.
Orlando City was brilliant at playing out of the back against NYC’s high-pressing lines; it’s what started the build-up to Mueller’s second goal in the 10th minute. We continued to see that display throughout the night, as we do in this clip below. Nani, Uri Rosell, and Urso work in sync with quick, short passes in the midfield to work the ball forward in space and pass back NYCFC’s defense.
The build-up doesn’t lead to a direct chance, unlike this one, which is less build-up play and more of a quick-sync of the midfield trio to create this blocked shot by Urso.
Orlando doesn’t have an abundance of individual attacking. Nani is pure class and Mueller is finding his stride, but this team, needless to say, doesn’t match up well against the likes of Atlanta and LAFC in terms of attacking prowess. We’re still trying to figure out Mauricio Pereyra‘s exact role in helping run this attack, but it’s appearing that it’s a more tempered role than what was originally touted when he was signed last summer — and that’s not a bad thing.
What we do know about Orlando City is that it’s going to take a team effort to win points consistently — efforts like the one we saw on Tuesday night. Pareja is going to need Nani and Mueller to provide their individual talents on the wings to work off the midfielders and play into space; he’s going to need his fullbacks to work as supporting wingers in the attack when the aforementioned wingers play inside; he’s going to need his strikers to be smart, making aggressive runs, and help create opportunities in front of goal; and he’s going to need his midfielders to facilitate possession and move the ball quickly up the field.
Steve Davis, who covered Pareja for years in Dallas, said it best how the Colombian manager approaches the game and it fits perfectly in with Orlando City:
For everybody now waking up to how well Oscar Pareja manages (Matt knew that, for sure), his most basic tenets:
He WANTS to play aggressive, proactive soccer, ideally in a 4-3-3. BUT…
He has a highly practical side; he “reads the room.”
He’s no ideologue; he badly wants to win https://t.co/IZF7J0LjIp
— Steve Davis (@SteveDavis90) July 15, 2020
What we saw, especially in the first half, was aggressive, proactive soccer. This is a formula that could deliver Orlando City more wins beyond just the MLS is Back Tournament.
Some other things of note
While Chris Mueller grabbed the headlines, Pedro Gallese was an unsung hero for Orlando City in this one. “El Pulpo” made six saves on the night, putting in a performance that arguably preserved the victory for the Lions, with saves like this:
Gallese was a Targeted Allocation Money signing by Orlando, but a fun reminder: he was a free transfer. Good signing.
Last week, I talked about how Nani was relatively tame on the left side against Inter Miami. This week, putting in another 100+ minute performance, the 33-year-old was all over the field.
There’s not much Nani can’t do for the Lions.
Lastly, Robin Jansson got a yellow card for this — which was rescinded eventually by the MLS Disciplinary Committee.
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