Last season, I wrote a column declaring the old Orlando City as we knew and occasionally loved them as dead, so it was fun for me to get another chance to watch that team again on Saturday night (technically, it was Sunday afternoon when I could finally watch the game), except that team was visiting Exploria Stadium, not hosting.
With the Lions’ 3-0 win over FC Cincinnati this past weekend, we got a chance to see this new, Oscar Pareja era version of Orlando City in close to its full form, but on the other side of the ball, we saw a Cincinnati team, one that has struggled to gain any sense of decency since entering the league in 2019, playing soccer reminiscent of the old Orlando City.
Cincinnati gave up a quick goal — like, a quick goal — 33 seconds into the game on a sloppy misplay in the back, then for 90 minutes struggled to look like a decently-coached soccer team, struggling to defend Orlando on the counter attack, which the Lions were so obviously playing to, and failing to have much idea, if any at all, of what to do when they managed to get the ball into the final third.
Here’s a look at all of Cincinnati’s completed passes in the final third:
There weren’t many! To make things worse, they didn’t put a single shot on goal.
On the flip side, in Orlando City you can see a team that’s organized defensively, has purpose in possession, and knows exactly how to execute its game plan. I saw the exact opposite in Cincinnati, which was easily how I’d describe Orlando just two years ago.
I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make this column one giant dunk on FC Cincinnati. I’m still getting used to watching a club that isn’t the worst in the league anymore, and it’s just really fun to see Orlando finally being a club that makes these bad teams look the part.
Moving on . . .
Creating goals with the high press
Cincinnati struggled throughout the night against Orlando City’s aggressive pressing. The Lions forced a decent chunk of turnovers by simply closing in on the on-ball players and shutting down passing lanes; that put Cincy players into a lot of positions they didn’t want to be in, making rushed passes or lobbing 50/50 balls that Orlando came down with a lot of. More notable, it’s how Orlando City put themselves in a spot to score two of their three goals.
While all the credit in the world should go to Nani for the pure brilliance of his dance-and-blast goal in the 19th minute, some additional credit should go out to Tesho Akindele for hustling on the backline as Cincinnati was trying to find a way out of their own third (and to a lesser extend, Mauricio Pereyra was there as well). That eventually puts goalkeeper Przemyslaw Tyton in a spot where his best option is to simply boot the ball down the field, where Ruan makes the sprint in to collect, putting Orlando on the sudden break with Nani finding the ball at his feet, and we all know what happens from there.
Here’s the video of the sequence leading to the goal:
Fast forward to the end stages of the match, and it’s Cincinnati against trying to play their way out of the back in the face of strong opposition from Orlando’s attacking front. This time, it’s Nani forcing the turnover and winning the ball back, with the Lions finding the back of the net against about 30 seconds after regaining possession.
When you come up against teams that don’t know how to break down the press, things like this tend to happen.
Crunching the numbers
Hehe, crunching the numbers, Kyle Smith used to be an accountant, get it?
I really hope it doesn’t get lost when Joao Moutinho is fully back in the starting lineup just how solid Smith has been in the left back role so far this season. He was strong against Atlanta on open day and this start against Cincinnati was perhaps his best yet.
- 2 tackles
- 1 interception
- 2 clearances
- 1 ariel won
- 88 percent accuracy
- 51 passes
- 1 key pass
He’s not the most talented player on the field, but he’s strong, he doesn’t back down when challenged, and he plays an aggressive style of soccer, fitting in perfectly with Oscar Pareja.
And he’s got moves!
He’s not Joao, but he’s Kyle Smith, and he’s a pretty dang good MLS player.
Some other things of note
I really can not say enough about Sebas Mendez after his performances over the last two matches. He dropped a Man of the Match performance in Kansas City, and then followed it up with another impressive night on Saturday.
- 92 touches (game high)
- 3 tackles (game high)
- 78 passes (game high)
- 95 percent accuracy
- 1 key pass
- 2 interceptions
- 2 clearances
The guy is simply every where. He covers so much ground and is almost always on your screen. At this rate, I don’t know that anybody can justify Uri Rosell taking back that starting spot when he’s finally deemed fully fit and ready to play.
I mentioned Joao, and that’s because he made his first appearance in nearly eight months on Saturday night. He came on late in the 85th and saw about 10 minutes of action. When healthy, Moutinho is arguably a top 5 attacking leftback in the league and someone that provides and irreplaceable weapon on the left wing to Orlando City.
It’s great to finally see him healthy and on the field.
A tackle, three key passes, and a solid 60 minutes of soccer from Mauricio Pereyra in his season debut. Nothing extravagant, which it’s to be expected when you’re forced to watch the first two games from the sideline, but overall not a bad night from Orlando’s No. 10.
Like Moutinho, Pereyra is a player that’s irreplaceable on this roster so having him back on the field gives Orlando City another level of attacking depth that they can’t be strong without in the middle of the park. I’ve said it several times before, I think he’s the Lions’ most important player.
For more soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @osjsoccer