Week 1 of the MLS season is a wrap for Orlando City and we’re here to tell a familiar story: Pedro Gallese posted a clean sheet and the Lions grabbed another result, a victory, with a final score of 1-0 over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night.
Both accomplishments extend impressive streaks, with Gallese yet to concede a single goal in four opening day starts for Orlando, and the Lions yet to suffer defeat in nine season-opening games as an MLS franchise.
Two new signings, a backup centerback, a 2022 mid-season signing, and an inexperienced Homegrown player featured in Ocsar Pareja‘s first starting lineup of 2023, with just one change from the lineup that Orlando used in the final preseason tune-up against New England one week prior (Ercan Kara starting up top in place of recent draftee Duncan McGuire).
Sticking with the familiar 4-2-3-1, the Lions stuck pretty firmly to their shape throughout the night, with Michael Halliday pushing up the flanks to overlap Ivan Angulo and Facundo Torres, who played fairly attached to the right side throughout, with both wingers and Martin Ojeda in the middle staying in their zones rather than interchanging as I thought we might see.
Mauricio Pereyra, as expected, took over the Junior Urso role as a deeper box-to-box midfielder, playing as a ball-winner and ignition point along with Cesar Araujo for what little attacking effort the Lions were able to create.
Working out the kinks
Orlando was among the worst teams in MLS in 2022 in non-penalty expected goals over the course of the season and showed no improvement over that on opening night. After failing to attempt a single shot through the first 45 minutes, Orlando accumulated an xG of 1.00 on the night, with Torres’ 56th-minute penalty kick accounting for nearly 80 percent of that number (including being the only shot Orlando put on target).
Largely speaking, what we saw for all 90 minutes was sure to be expected from a group that’s still learning how to work within the same field as each other going up against a team that remained largely the same from last season and is well-coached under manager Gerhard Struber.
It wasn’t for a lack of trying, as the Lions showed plenty of glimpses but more often than not were making passes a step or two too late, or were just simply not on the same page as the players on the intended receiving end of a pass.
One sequence, shown below, in the 13th minute begins with Ivan Angulo receiving the ball, he turns to cut in towards the middle of the park where Torres is standing with his arms up, calling for the ball.
With the teams in transition and two defenders closing in on Angulo, Torres sees an opportunity in space to make a better pass to either Kara or Ojeda making runs up top, but Angulo takes too many dribbles, allowing the Red Bull defense to settle so that by the time Torres has the ball and does attempt to split the defenders with a ground pass it’s too late and the defender is able to step in and clear the ball away.
16 minutes later, in the 29th minute, Ojeda gains the ball and spots an open Torres on the wing. The Uruguayan wanted the ball at his feet, but Ojeda sails a leading ball too far ahead, resulting in a throw-in for New York.
One more example for the final minutes of the match sees Dagur Dan Thorhallsson receiving the ball, unaware of Ramiro Enrique on a run in space between two defenders to his left before laying the ball off to Torres on his right.
Miscues like this are to be expected with a fresh group this early in the season. For a team that wasn’t pouring in goals last season, expectations certainly weren’t high — at least not within the OSJ camp — that we’d see a high-flying offense right off the bat.
For Game 1, it’s not all that concerning to think about. Now, if we’re ten or so games into the season and we’re still seeing these issues bogging the team down then yeah, I’d start to wonder if this is going to work. Ultimately, three points are the goal and the fact that posting one shot on target didn’t keep them from victory is a positive sign.
- Orlando had one of the best offseason in MLS and between all of the moves they completed, there’s an argument to be made that re-signing Pedro Gallese was one of the top two, just behind the signing of Ojeda. Gallese only had to make four saves on the night, but his biggest save was one that kept all three points in the hands of the home side with a monster effort in the closing minutes before stoppage time.
“It’s much better when we don’t use him,” Pareja joked after the match. “Or he doesn’t need to be that protagonist. But that’s what he’s there for, his experience and those actions where we need him the most. I think he’s incredible. And we’re very pleased to have him for sure. We’re happy to have Pedro back and he knows that he’s an important piece of this team.”
- Not a terrible debut for Ojeda, but like the rest of the group there was a lot left to be desired. Showed some glimpses of talent, but with only 34 touches he didn’t have many opportunities to be the creative force Orlando signed. He finished at just a 62%completion rate on 24 passes.
- A good, not great first start of the season for Halliday. Played heavily in combination with Torres on the right flank and put a couple of quality services into the box, with solid defensive numbers: two tackles, one interception, and two clearances. Still plenty of room to grow for the 20-year-old Homegrown player.
- Despite two new starters among the group, Orlando’s backline put in another good shift. With Antonio Carlos not on the team sheet due to a leg injury, Rodrigo Schlegel stepped in alongside Robin Jansson and Luca Petrasso, who was making his Orlando debut. Strong defense has been a staple for the Lions since Pareja took over in 2020, as we saw that trend continue with another shutout to open the season.
“It was good. Rodrigo [Schlegel], Robin [Jansson] Mikey [Halliday], as well. Great group of people, great group of guys in the backline with us,” Petrasso said of his new backline teammates. “Obviously in training we’ve been working closely together, through the whole preseason and in games. Obviously, we’ve played different formations in the five in the back and today it was a four in the back, but me and Robin are very good off the field and very close so on the field, it’s very good to have him by my side and protect me and he’s an amazing player.”
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