Orlando City‘s 2023 season has been anything but straightforward to this point. Three wins, two losses, and two draws in seven games; two of those losses at home and two of those wins on road. On one hand, you could almost argue the Lions haven’t looked as good as the results suggest, but the team hasn’t been terrible for the most part either (unpleasant to watch, sure).
Saturday night’s win at Allianz Field over Adrian Heath‘s Minnesota United FC was another of those results that didn’t quite match up with what we actually saw happening on the field.
The Lions were the lesser of the two sides for much of the first half, defending off a handful of solid chances before finally finding its footing closer to halftime. Things looked better in the second half but Orlando still conceded first in the 56th before scoring twice in the 66th and 88th to come from behind and complete the comeback.
Wins are wins. I get it, frustration is starting to mount regarding how the team is actually performing, but you play to win the game and get results.
Orlando City has gotten results in five of their first seven. Nothing worrisome about that.
Now, let’s dive into what we saw.
Debuting a new shape
Oscar Pareja played around with a three-back system during the preseason and finally debuted it in full force this weekend, using a 3-4-3 against Minnesota.
Gaston Gonzalez and Ivan Angulo flanked the wings to the outside of Cesar Araujo as No. 6, Mauricio Pereyra in the middle just ahead of him, and the three-man front line of Facundo Torres, Martin Ojeda, and Ramiro Enrique.
They stayed pretty true to that exact shape throughout the match.
But Orlando struggled to build effectively early in the match because Minnesota was cutting off those passing lanes in the middle from Araujo and Pereyra, who both finished with the most touches on the team with 82 and 88 respectively. Ideally, Orlando wants to play from the back with either of those two being the next move forward before the play is into one of the group’s higher attacking players.
Minnesota understood that and countered by surrounding Pereyra and Araujo.
Even with the focus the Loons were giving to the middle of the field, moving through the wide spaces wasn’t coming much easier either. Until they were finally able to get around that and utilize the wingbacks more effectively, getting the ball forward and into good spaces in the final third was hard for the Lions to do.
Orlando figured it out and adjusted as the match went on, and it hardly came as a surprise that when the Lions finally found the scoresheet in the 66th minute, both wingbacks played central roles in the goal.
This goal is everything that Orlando was trying to figure out. Struggling to find forward movement through the middle, Antonio Carlos eventually picks up Gaston Gonzalez on the far side and switches the direction of play with a long ball across the field. Gonzalez cuts in and passes to Martin Ojeda, who draws the full attention of the fullback to opem the space in behind for Gonzalez’s run.
On the far side, it’s Ivan Angulo with the back-post run to connect on the end Gonzalez’s cross for the finish and goal.
Still learning to co-exist
On paper, I liked the idea of using Torres, Ojeda, and Enrique as a front-three. All three of these guys pose a threat and offer a different skillset that keeps defenders on their toes and gives Orlando a few different options in trying to break down the backline.
But, what happens on paper is much harder to translate in actual on-field performance, as this group has shown throughout these early-season games.
Pareja has given these guys, Torres and Ojeda more specifically, the freedom to be themselves and let their talent dictate the play, but we’ve seen so far that it’s a lot harder to let that be the case and get them to work cohesively with each other to make things happen.
Orlando seems to be suffering from having a bunch of good attackers on the field that just isn’t actually creating enough chances. I mean, look at this lineup. It looks at the question of “How does Oscar get them all on the field together?” and answers it pretty plainly, but on the field it didn’t quite translate — at least for one game.
Ojeda is a trigger-happy attacker. His instinct is to get the ball and take a shot as soon as possible, which, sure, is good for putting shots on goal, but in many cases has come at the expense of setting up a better shot or finding an attacker on a nearby run.
This shot wins Orlando a corner off the deflection, but was that really the best way to use the ball?
Elsewhere, we also saw a problem of the three attackers occupying similar space, not separating enough to create better space, or just simply making the same run.
This moment below comes early in the second half. Gonzalez has enough time to send a cross into the penalty area, where we saw all three standing within ten yards of each other, standing still, calling for the same expected cross.
I know this is a still image, but even as the cross eventually comes in, none of the three players are anywhere different than in this moment.
If there’s a clear opportunity for the coaching staff to step in and make some improvements, it would be getting these guys to understand each other’s position and make better runs. But then again, this is an easy example of these guys still trying to gel and figure each other out.
It can be difficult to put a bunch of guys on the field together that are used to being the guy on the team they came from, but that’s just part of the personal adjustments you have to make when you move up to higher levels with better players. Give it time.
Here’s what Oscar had to say after the match, addressing the issues:
“As we’ve spoken about, it is not easy to glue a team who has that many new players [as we do], but we also know that we have urgency to get results and not just that, but make them feel that they’re connected and they’re educated on our ways and what we recommend to them. It’s much easier when you can do that when you’re winning. It’s not easy when you’re not getting results and losing against Nashville at home created obviously tension, but today the players were fantastic, and they showed us one more time that they have character and that they believe in this process and they’re ready to do it.”
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