Beyond the Scoreline: Oscar Pareja’s one significant tactical change that helped Orlando City defeat Philadelphia

Mark Thor, Orlando City

It’s been a few weeks since I’ve gotten around to doing another one of these game breakdowns but after a week of trying to understand why the internet was calling for Oscar Pareja‘s job and a return to mostly normalcy with the congested Champions League schedule behind us, it feels like a good time to settle back into the same old same old.

Orlando City was on the road this weekend for a matchup against the Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park, a place that’s been everything to the Union that most people would think Exploria Stadium should be to the Lions over the last few seasons, and they pulled off a 2-1 victory, one that a visiting side in Chester hasn’t accomplished in the 24 previous matches.

Short-handed Union or not, wins are wins and for an Orlando City side that’s shown anything but the potential we’ve expected from it so far this year, it should be a performance that leaves fans happy and buzzing about the road ahead.

So let’s jump in.

Ramiro Enrique the false 9

Manager Oscar Pareja took a different approach to the attack this weekend against Philly and it yielded some of the best results we’ve seen thus far in 2023.

Two very early goals from Martin Ojeda and Ivan Angulo are the storyline for this match, but let’s take a deeper look at the movement and play of forward Ramiro Enrique that helped create a lot of opportunity for Orlando throughout the night.

Orlando’s attack has always been very free-flowing under Pareja. Players come and go, mixing spots and searching for different pockets of space as they come up. Against Philly, we see Mauricio Pereyra return to the central, No. 10 role that we were used to seeing him in before this season. But he’s not locked down to just one area, roaming around and tugging defenders with him wherever he goes.

With the central midfielders occupied, usually Leon Flach, it would allow Enrique to drop in and be the receiver on countless goal kicks and balls into the central midfield. Because Enrique would be unmarked, the Union’s centerbacks — Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes — were forced to make the step forward and expose the space behind them or allow Enrique the time to receive the ball and find his next man.

We see this play out perfectly on Orlando’s opening goal in the second minute in the clip below:

Keep an eye on Enrique at the top of the attack. Mason Stajduhar couldn’t spot that kick any better, allowing Enrique to drop in and chest the ball down to Pereyra. Those few steps forward freeze Jack Elliot, keeping him off balance just enough to allow Ojeda’s run off his left side that Pereyra sees with a floater over the line into a clear chance at goal.

One more short example: Ball is played into the into the middle of the park, both Flach and Andres Perea have their attention turned towards Enrique, leaving an acre of free space on the right side that Ojeda eventually turns up to exploit and create another opportunity moving forward.

This game featured some of the best ball movement that we’ve seen from Orlando this season, as well as some of the best execution of finding and making dangerous runs into spaces. A lot of that can be attributed directly to Pareja and the way he opted to use Enrique in this match as a false No. 9 and kept Philadelphia’s backline on its toes and guessing throughout the night.

Enrique had 42 touches in this game, far more than you would expect to see from any starting forward in a typical Pareja gameplan and the chart below, looking at his first half touches, gives you a good idea of where he usually ended up when the ball came to him.

Some other things of note

  • Martin Ojeda has two goals in his last two games now, with an assist to his credit as well, and it seems as if he’s beginning to find more confidence with the ball. It’s clear this guy’s uber-talented and with his skill and knack for just ripping the ball when he finds even the tiniest bit of space he’s going to be a force in this league in the not-so-distant future. He took eight shots in this one (three on target), with two key passes, 4-for-5 on his longball, and even a couple tackles as well. Very promising stuff from him early in the season.
  • Antonio Carlos made his 2023 debut in this one, subbing on in the 79th minute. It might be a longshot to say he could be starting as soon as this weekend against Nashville, but you’d have to think that if not this week, then he should be fully ready to make his return to the lineup in Minnesota, where the Lions will travel in a few weeks after their bye week following the game this weekend. Rodrigo Schlegel has been commendable in his place alongside Robin Jansson, but with more gaffs than you’d like to see it’s easy to say that Orlando will be making a big upgrade defensively when Carlos finally returns to the starting lineup.
  • And finally, let’s give a shoutout to Mason Stajduhar. As the longest-tenured player at the club right now, it hasn’t been the easiest journey for Mason, but with Pedro Gallese out on international duty we got a chance to see him for the first time this year and he made the most of that opportunity. Five saves on the night, including two huge stops on Alejandro Bedoya and Jack Elliot in the second half that kept Orlando ahead, and solid distribution. Here’s to hoping he gets his chance at a starting job somewhere one day.

For more Orlando soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer


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