What Can Orlando City Do to Better Combat High-Pressure Defending?



Orlando City did a lot of things wrong in Monday night's rout at the hands of FC Dallas – a general lack of want to being a primary one €–€” but once again we saw the Lions fail to handle themselves in the face of a pressing defense. Going back to City's April 24 loss at New York Red Bulls, we've seen the club struggle with this type of pressure before and they don't seem to have improved much in this regard since.

The Orlando attack has been improved this season, with the Lions increasing their goal output from the 16-game mark last season (20) to the same point in this campaign (28). City had not been held scoreless prior to its 4-0 loss at Dallas, and we'd seen some scintillating attacking play at times, including a 4-1 win vs. Portland and a 3-2 triumph over Toronto.

When the Lions are playing their preferred style, their fullbacks are bombing forward to provide width and Kaká is pulling the strings from the center of the park. When teams press high, however, the Lions' build-up play has disappeared and they have struggled mightily with cheap giveaways that lead to easy chances for the opposition, which gains a numerical advantage in dangerous areas of the pitch after such turnovers.
One way that the high press thwarts an attack like Orlando's is by taking advantage of technically inferior players when they are in possession of the ball. Defenders are naturally less inclined to be great passers and handlers of the ball, so when a forward or winger comes sprinting at them as soon as they receive the ball in their own defensive third, mistakes eventually occur as a result. Good positioning by defenders will limit a center back's passing options to simple touches to his fullback – whose side of the field is then overloaded – or his goalkeeper, or he's forced into a low-percentage long ball over the top.

Accurate long balls are an effective way to beat such a press, but with defenders it is likely that many of these long passes will miss their mark and result in a loss of possession, meaning a possession-oriented attack like Orlando's is taken out of its comfort zone. Even a center back like City's David Mateos, who is a pretty good passer from the back, isn't exactly Leonardo Bonucci with the ball at his feet.
The Lions' passing maps have been littered with missed long balls in the aforementioned losses to NYRB and FC Dallas, and Orlando combined to misfire on 53 passes targeted inside its own half of the field in those two outings. Neither of these matches has inspired much, if any, confidence that OCSC will be able to handle a high press if faced with one in the near future.
As the Lions haven't proven themselves good enough with square long-range passes to beat such an ambush, there are a few other ways to try and beat it, including wide spacing and diagonal balls as opposed to such direct long passes.
Wider spacing allows more time on the ball, as the defense can't close down as quickly, and the diagonal passes can switch the field and offset the numbers advantage from the defense overloading one side of the pitch. These approaches make it more difficult for the defense to get numbers around the ball, which allows for more build-up play that the Lions like to employ against a more low-pressure setup. The midfielders and fullbacks can then work precise, quick, one-two passing combinations in the right parts of the field and create numbers advantages of their own, which will lead to opportunities to play balls in behind the defense to Cyle Larin and co. up front.
While easier said than done, the Lions will need to improve in the face of high-pressure defenses. When faced with such siege tactics –€” or anything resembling them as we saw in Dallas – Orlando has been not only losing, but losing handily (the 3-2 scoreline at NYRB was generous to OCSC). The mistakes that are being forced by the pressure are deadly enough and, when combined with the type of unforced mistakes the Lions committed on Monday night (that led directly to the first two FCD goals), are resulting in disastrous outings for the lads in purple.


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