Orlando City’s Possession, Passing, and Play



It took a lot of time for Orlando to earn three points this past Saturday and some (not this guy) would say a dubious penalty call. However, the story is not necessarily the late penalty but why the Lions found themselves searching for the late goal to take the lead. It has been the norm of late and really all season for Orlando to walk off the home pitch after ending in a draw.

Yes, they are undefeated at home, and yes, they are in a playoff spot so far with 20 points, but there have been quite a few moments where Orlando has given points away late, only to end in a draw. This past weekend saw that exact scenario play out and there are a few things that point to why that is happening.

First, Orlando is not as in control this year as last season. In this case, being in control speaks to possession. So far in 2016, Orlando has garnered 49.3% possession, while in 2015 the Lions were able to play with 50.7%. Perhaps that 1.4% difference does not seem to be an issue worth investigating, but when you consider that 60% of Orlando's matches have taken place at home, that may lead many to believe that the possession numbers should look stronger.

This possession issue that is being uncovered also leads to another, more telling problem — passing. Last year, Orlando was known around the league for the number of short passes (fourth in MLS in 2015) they could string together and for how good they were at completing them (81.7%, first in MLS). That ability, coupled with strong possession, allowed Orlando to control the tempo and style of play. This year, however, Orlando is eighth in MLS in pass efficiency and 11th overall in short passes completed per match.

Both the possession issue and the passing efficiency problems may be why the most telling problem for Orlando even exists, as all of these are mode-of-play stats — the action zone problem. A few weeks ago on this site we focused on action zones and how Orlando has been operating and playing within its own defensive zone more frequently this year then last. In essence, this has led to Orlando having less time in the final third. But, if you include the issues with possession and the drop in the ability to pass effectively throughout the team, then perhaps the action zone (the third of the field in which a team plays) issue has been forced upon Orlando this year.

At first, in the related article previously mentioned, an underlying assumption was that Orlando was choosing to play more in the defensive third, but after looking at the combination of these stats — when compared to 2015 — it looks as if Orlando is just not performing as well as it was in 2015 in controlling the ball, passing, and playing on the front foot.

All of these issues mean that Orlando has a lot of room for improvement, even 15 matches into the 2016 season. So, for a team that is currently sitting in a playoff spot and undefeated at home, perhaps there is chance for a strong move up the table and in the future we may not just be talking about if Orlando will make the playoffs, but if the Lions can win the East.


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