After the first 15 games of the 2016 MLS season, it’s clear that Orlando City’s weak spot is its defense. Giving up late goals has seen the team drop several points this season, which has greatly contributed to the Lions’ current sixth-place position in the Eastern Conference standings. In order to achieve their goals this season, the Lions must make roster changes on defense.
While Orlando City is an exciting attacking team going forward, the Lions often leave themselves open on counter attacks, which has the potential to lead to goals. Due to the weakness of their defense, that has become a serious problem for the purple-clad Lions. Of course, for a team that presses so far forward, they're bound to give up a certain amount of chances. But it's the play of the players on the back line that has been concerning for Orlando City fans.
The outside back position this season has been a problem for the Lions. Brek Shea made the transition in 2015 from left midfield to left back and the move seemed to be working. But he has regressed this year. One problem for Shea is that he continues to push forward as if he’s still a midfielder, putting himself in a position where he can’t get back. His lack of experience has also been on display. On Toronto FC’s first goal Saturday night, the other three defenders moved up to place Toronto’s forward-most player offside. But Shea stuck on his man, keeping him onside and allowing him to score the equalizing goal.
While Shea has been troublesome, the right side hasn’t been much better. The young Portuguese right back Rafael Ramos began the season as starter but has had similar issues to last year. This largely has to do with his mindset. Ramos has shown a tendency to be taken out of games mentally when things don’t go his way. This creates a situation where things continue to get worse until he is completely ineffective.
But Ramos isn’t the only right back that has struggled. With an injury keeping the young defender sidelined currently, Kevin Alston has been playing in his spot. An MLS veteran, Alston has had his own troubles. Alston has largely played well going forward but tends to lose concentration on the back post. In the 90th minute Saturday night, as the Lions attempted to see out a 2-1 victory, Alston got caught ball watching as Sebastian Giovinco darted toward the end line. Meanwhile, Justin Morrow continued his back post run, leaving nobody on him when the ball came across, allowing him to equalize.
The outside back positions have been a problem this season, but the center back pairing has had its issues as well. 19-year-old Tommy Redding has great potential to be a star in MLS but he is still quite rough around the edges, which leaves his team vulnerable. Redding’s two main problems are positioning and his play in the air.
Redding's been prone this season to being caught on the wrong side of the forward, having to use his speed to make up for his mistake. So far he's been quite lucky that his positioning issues haven't cost him, but that could change. At 6-foot-1, Redding should also be much better in the air than he is. As a center back, it's important that he can win balls in the air to clear out crosses but Redding's aerial clearances are few and far between.
His most usual partner is former Real Madrid B defender David Mateos. The 29-year-old's inconsistency has been worrying at times for the Lions. At times, you can see why Mateos was held in high regard by the Spanish giants. But mental lapses that occur nearly every game show why he never appeared for the first team.
While there are deficiencies of all four members of the back line, they also have the potential to play quite well, and have at times. Most of the problems with this group have been mental lapses and usually at the end of games. It's not that Orlando City needs to replace each defender currently on the roster, but experience, particularly at right and left back, would certainly do the team well. Maybe then they would be able to see out games which they've shown that are absolutely incapable of doing with their current roster.