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Orlando City at Chicago Fire: Player Grades and Man of the Match

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Orlando went to Chicago with a chance to climb above the red line for the second consecutive week and again couldn’t quite get it done. D.C. United’s win ensures the Lions will stay just below the line although even on oints with sixth place again this week. This match could go down as a bit of a disappointment as Orlando was the better side and created several opportunities to put the game away but never could finish off the Fire.

With constant repetitive chants of "Fire, Fire, Fire" echoing around Toyota Park, Orlando played the ball into dangerous positions yet never put Chicago to the sword and allowed the Fire to play back into the match to earn a draw late.

Let’s get to the grades from tonight’s 2-2 draw.

Starters

GK, Joe Bendik, 6 -€” Joe was by no means flawless in this week’s match-up but there were moments just as in most matches this season where he showed his shot-stopping talent. In the 15th minute, as Seb Hines was rounded by the speedy David Accam, Joe came up big. He also had a nice save at the near post but could have definitely done better on the second Chicago goal, where the ball looked to go straight at him and deflected off his arm and into the back of the net. Here is to hoping that Orlando will not allow quick corners like the one Chicago played in to happen again.

D, Luke Boden, 6 -€” With Shea looking as if the move up field in Kreis’s system is permanent (even if it is not helping Shea’s play), Boden started again at left back where he looked to have a good relationship with Kaká. There were a few moments where he looked a bit indecisive in the attack but overall he played well moving forward and connecting while getting back on defense. Orlando ended up being a bit lucky in the 90th minute where Boden definitely had contact in the box bringing down Alvarez but Geiger was on the Lions' side as the call was not given to Chicago. Overall a decent night from Boden.

D, Tommy Redding, 4.5 -€” With Mateos out on suspension the young center back found himself back in the starting lineup and he started off a bit slow, with a bad pass almost letting Matt Polster into an early chance. Then he got called for an early foul just outside the box on David Accam, which led to the first goal for Chicago. After that, he then earned a yellow card in the 18th minute on a hard slide tackle on Accam. He wasn’t done. Redding then got caught up field, giving the ball away in the 26th minute. The theme is it was not a good game for Redding, who may have shown a few flashes of a future where he can be a good defender, but that day may not be today as he is still too inconsistent.

D, Seb Hines, 5.5 -€” Like his center back partner, Seb also started off slow, getting rounded by Accam in the 15th minute and being bailed out by Bendik with a good save, Hines definitely has some speed issues. However, after Redding went off in the second half, Hines looked to become more aggressive and assertive in defense. Even with the quick corner being put in by his man, Hines still looked like Orlando’s best central defender. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not.

D, Kevin Alston, 5.5 – A few good connections saw Alston get forward but he does not bring the same type of speed into the attack that Rafael Ramos does. That being said, he also defends better and is not a liability for a red card. In Chicago, Alston had a solid if unspectacular game and has started to solidify his role as the starting right back for Orlando.

MF, Servando Carrasco, 6.5 -€” Simple and efficient could be the two words for Carrasco tonight. He worked his passes well around the pitch while not trying to do too much. He even got into the attack a few times and played a good cross onto the head of Cyle Larin that led to a Kaká finish. The type of play that we saw today from Carrasco should be what he aspires to do every match, simple and efficient.

MF, Cristian Higuita, 6 -€” Before the injury that saw Tony Rocha come in for Higuita, he looked to be his usual self, flying around the pitch and playing aggressively on defense. There were some highlights, especially the tackle on John Goossens inside the box in the 38th minute. Going forward, Orlando could be in for some trouble after trading Darwin Ceren if Higuita is injured long term.

MF, Brek Shea, 4 -€” Not sure what to say here, so let’s start with the positives, Brek Shea did not get injured and made a few good runs. Outside of that, Shea was pretty much horrible all night, mishitting his crosses by sometimes leagues, misplaying passes, and generally just not being sharp. It is hard to pinpoint what is going on with Shea but this could have been one of his worst performances and the only thing that left him on the pitch could have been the injury to Higuita. There was at least one moment in the 75th minute where Shea worked from outside in to get a shot on goal, but other than that, this was a forgettable performance.

MF, Kaká, 8.5 (MOTM) -€” There could probably be a whole story written on how well Kaká played tonight. He forced Chicago to move players around literally by himself and created chance after chance. The first goal by Larin in the 10th minute was set up by Kaká's chip and following that he put in a rebound in the 32nd minute, roofing the ball into the top of the net. With a goal and an assist the captain got more compliments from the announcers than Michael Phelps this weekend and even with one of his most complete performances Orlando still ended up with a draw, but I shudder to think what the game would have looked like without him. Kaká showed today that he still has a lot of soccer ahead and all he needs to do is stay healthy.

MF, Matias Perez Garcia, 6.5 – Getting his first start, the quick play-maker also had the confidence of the staff and team to take corners, putting in a good first ball off the head of Hines in the eighth minute that the defender could not put on frame. Following that was MPG's pass to Kaká that led to the first goal for Orlando and their chemistry looked good throughout the game. He also started the play for the second goal by drawing in defenders and releasing Carrasco down the right side. One of the only negatives from the day was the fact that his shooting left so much to be desired as there were a few moments where he found himself in space and looked like he was kicking a field goal instead of shooting on goal. But, beyond that, the crafty midfielder looks to be a good fit for Orlando moving forward.

F, Cyle Larin, 7 – Cyle got on the board early by splitting the central defenders from Chicago in the 10th minute as Kaká played him into the box and Cyle finished smoothly past Sean Johnson. Then, in the 32nd minute, Cyle got on the end of a cross from Carrasco and put the ball of the crossbar that fell to Kaká then got deposited for the second goal of the night for Orlando. Outside of a goal and having a hand in the other, Larin looked good throughout the day as his hold-up play has consistently improved and his movement up top keeps getting better — as seen in the 62nd minute, when he rounded the defense and then got pulled down by Johnson in the box. It should have been a penalty. We may not see him in purple for too much longer.

Substitutes

D, Jose Aja (56’), 5 – Coming in for an underwhelming Tommy Redding, Aja did not do much to stake a claim on the other center back role for Orlando on his debut. In the 76th minute he was beaten badly and luckily the shot went wide. Then again in the 86th minute he stepped up to only give the ball away and dive into a nasty tackle that gave away a free kick at the top of the box. That foul was the lead-up to the second goal for Chicago as the ensuing play gave the corner. Perhaps he needs more time with the team and I am sure there are better days ahead for Aja.

M, Tony Rocha (60’), 5.5 – It took a few minutes for Rocha to get into the game but when he did, he did not look out of place. He played his passes well and tried to get into the attack, even though his shot was at the moon instead of the goal. Rocha looks to be a player who can grow into a role with Orlando. Today he was just okay.

M, Kevin Molino (64’), 6.5 – Molino came on and did what I am sure he was asked to — attack. In the 79th minute he was only inches away from a goal. In the end, the attack did not lead to any goals for Orlando but he took it upon himself to put a few shots on frame and try to find more goals for Orlando. Having him and Perez Garcia available gives Kreis the chance to move Kaká outside, where he looked very dangerous.

That's how I saw the match. Who would you grade differently? And be sure to vote for your Man of the Match in the poll below.

Polling Closed

PlayerVotes
Kaká161
Cyle Larin4
Joe Bendik2
Servando Carrasco15
Matias Perez Garcia9
Other1

Orlando City

Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. LAFC

Get some insider information on LAFC courtesy of someone who knows the team best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

We find ourselves at the end of another week, which means that another Orlando City match is almost upon us. Following a two-week break, the Lions will return to action with a home contest against LAFC.

A date with LAFC means I got some insider info on the opposition from Trebor Tracy, the managing editor of Angels on Parade. They’re another former SBNation blog that has gone independent, and they continue to do excellent work covering LAFC, Angel City FC, and Orange County SC, so make sure you check them out!

Catch me up on some of LAFC’s off-season transfer business. Who are some names that were brought in, and who went out the door?

Trebor Tracy:  LAFC came into this season as close to a rebuild project as you can be for a team many expect to compete for championships and trophies each year. In the off-season the team saw 15 departures from the 2023 squad, and that’s not counting loans out. Among the bigger names leaving Los Angeles were both goalkeepers that helped lift LAFC to the 2022 MLS Cup, midfielder Kellyn Acosta, defenders Denil Maldonado and Diego Palacios, and of course, the departure of inaugural signing Carlos Vela. This was a team expected to look completely different this season and it has. As for the arrivals, the team spent the off-season loading up on the likes of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, forwards Kei Kamara and Cristian Olivera, and defender Omar Campos. The rough start to the year for Los Angeles had a lot to do with the newness of the team and having to build that familiarity within the XI. 

Of the incoming transfers, who has made the biggest impression? Is there anyone who you’d like to see performing better than they have been so far?

TT: Its been hard for LAFC to replace a lot of the departures — not just in terms of production, but leadership and experience in several cases. While not technically an off-season arrival, Cristian Olivera, who arrived in summer window of 2023, really came into his own this season. With an entire off-season under his belt, he has by far been the best of the new arrivals for LAFC. He is producing goals, creating opportunities for others, and has that confidence this team thrives off of. On the other side of the coin, Hugo Lloris has been the biggest disappointment. In fairness to him, he has drastically improved during the team’s recent run, but the start of his MLS career had him easily one of the worst keepers in the league. 

LAFC is on a five-game unbeaten run in league play, what’s been working so well for the team during this stretch?

TT: Speaking of that run, the play of Lloris is why they have done so well recently. Well, that and Denis Bouanga appears to have found his soccer boots again. The 180 those two have done has been the catalyst for the team’s great run of form lately. 

Will any players be unavailable for selection due to injury, suspension, call-ups, etc.? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?

TT: Availability reports come out night before the match, and we have the team presser this afternoon. with a few players set to return, I am unsure at the moment as to who exactly will be  ready to go.


Thank you to Trebor for helping get us caught up on LAFC. Vamos Orlando!

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Orlando City

Orlando City Needs to Start Using the Scoreboard Again

A deep statistical dive into Orlando City’s offensive struggles. We’re warning you…there will be math (but we do it for you).

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

One of the more memorable scenes in my favorite movie of all time, Bull Durham, is when the manager walks into the showers after another loss, yells at the team about their recent performance, and ends with “this (baseball) is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got it!?” Soccer is, of course, a little different but the concept remains the same. You pass the ball, you shoot the ball, you score the ball. Unless you are Orlando City, recently.

Anyone can look at the recent results for Orlando City and see that goals have been, shall we say, less than plentiful. But why is that happening? Well, one idea may be that another team in Orlando is using up all the goals, with the Orlando Pride having scored 19 (excluding opposition own goals) to Orlando City’s 15, with the Pride having played four fewer games to boot, but goals are not a zero-sum equation (I know you asked your math teacher for years when you would ever need to use equations in the real world; you’re welcome!), so let’s dive into what has been going on for Orlando City and take a look at what may be causing an average of 0.94 goals/game (again, excluding opposition own goals) in the 2024 MLS season after an average of 1.6 goals/game in 2023.

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but I do not think a lack of shots taken is the main culprit for this Orlando City team this season. Yes, in the last match against the Red Bulls the Lions only managed five shots (all stats in this article are courtesy of fbref.com,  in collaboration with Opta, which codes thousands of matches every weekend across hundreds of competitions all over the world), but for the 2024 season, Orlando City is averaging 11.8 shots/game, 1.1 shots/game fewer than the league average of 12.9 but actually 0.1 higher than Orlando City’s 11.7 shots/game from 2023. Orlando City’s 11.8 shots/game ranks 23rd in all of MLS — not great, but the team with the most shots/game, St. Louis FC at 16.8, has only earned one more point than Orlando City after playing the same number of games, and the correlation (I told you there would be math) between shots/game and goals is relatively weak (r = 0.25, a strong positive correlation would be an r between 0.7 and the maximum r value of 1.0), so a higher value of shots/game does not necessarily lead to more goals.

What does tend to lead to more goals is more shots on target. I know, I know, you never would have thought of that. And as we look into shots on target for Orlando City in 2024, lo and behold, this is where we start to really see where the problems have arisen this season. Orlando City ranks 26th in MLS this year with 29% shots on target, so when you combine a rank of 23rd in shots/game with a rank of no. 26 in shots on target, you get a team that has scored a low amount of Goals as compared to the rest of the league. Orlando City’s 29% shots on target rate in 2024 is an 18% decrease from its 2023 shots on target percentage of 36% (7% raw decrease (36%-29% = 7%) but an 18% percent decrease (29%/36% – 100% = -18%), and the Lions’ 29% shots on target percentage is 1.28 standard deviations below the MLS average.

This is probably the time for me to tell you I was that high school math teacher who students asked about using math in the real world, and I did teach AP statistics, where we frequently talked about standard deviations and 1.28 standard deviations below the average is, in this case, to use a technical term, u-g-l-y and they ain’t got no alibi.

Is it as ugly as Bubba Sparxxx rapped about back in 2000? Was that just a question to make a pop culture reference about a song I enjoyed when I was in high school? Yes and yes. The first time I ever heard former Orlando City coach Adrian Heath interviewed he said, “Goals change games,” which of course is obvious and means that those who are taking the most shots need to be game changers. Looking at the table below, we can see who has been taking the shots and the differences between 2024 and 2023:

At first glance there is some good news. Orlando City’s leading shot takers this year are generally shooting on target around the league average, but it is on the clinical side, the goals per shot on target and goals per shot attempt where we can see that Orlando City is struggling.

We do see that Duncan McGuire continues to be clinical when he gets his shots on target, but the big drop for him is that last year he put nearly three out of every four shots on target and this year he is down to something much closer to the league average of around one out of every three. Among players with at least 17 shots last year (I chose this number because it would be 0.5 shots/game across 34 games and because it is my father’s favorite number), Duncan ranked first out of 244 MLS players in shots on target percentage and in goals per shots on target, and though his numbers this year are still above average, he is down to 43rd and 13th out of the 108 players who have taken more than 17 shots, respectively (keeping the same shot volume threshold for consistency). Four other major takeaways from me on this chart:

  • Facundo Torres was second on the list for most shots taken in 2023 and was an excellent finisher (this does include penalties, but they are shots and you have to make them), but in 2024 he is tied for fifth in shots with Dagur Dan Thórhallsson at only 15 shots taken.
  • Martin Ojeda remains a high volume shooter, but he is looking much more like Jordan Poole than Steph Curry this year with a lot of shots on target but not a lot of makes. And by not a lot I mean, sadly, zero.
  • Orlando City as a whole is taking shots from slightly closer to the goal but the team’s most frequent shooters are shooting from farther away than last year, and you do not need me as a math major to tell you that goalkeepers would prefer long shots over close shots.
  • Ercan Kara was a somewhat maligned striker for Orlando City, but he was pretty lethal when he got a shot off, putting more than two out of every five shots on frame and scoring at twice the MLS average on goals/shot. His 2023 shot volume is low on this chart because he left halfway through the season, but in his two years in MLS he scored at 21% and 22% on goals/shot, which put him in the upper echelon of shooters in the league.

Going back to McGuire and where he ranked in all of MLS, here is a heat map, but with the corresponding percentile ranks of Orlando City’s players among players who took at least 17 (hi Dad) shots (red to green scale — 0% (dark red, very low performance) to 100% (dark green, very good performance).

The comparisons between 2024 and 2023 are the most stark again in the columns involving goals, as in 2023 Orlando City’s most frequent shooters were scoring in the upper echelons of all MLS players, and this year there is much more red/orange than green for those with at least 17 shots. The other biggest differences of course surround who is taking the shots. Luis Muriel has arrived and has taken the most shots in 2024, but looking at his career shooting stats there is not a lot of evidence that being a lethal finisher is something in his skillset. Barbra Banda he is not, but then again nobody is Barbra Banda (except Barbra Banda), and expecting Muriel to change his playing style to be more of a finisher rather than initiator while adapting to a new league and teammates is lot to ask for someone who joined after the season began.

The bigger need for Orlando City is to get McGuire back on the field and to get Torres going, Facundo’s shots/90 minutes is down more than 50% from last season (largely owing to playing a lot of wingback over the last several weeks), and for someone who was in the 94th percentile in goals/shot in 2023 to have decreased their shot volume by so much is the opposite of what you want. Plus, Facundo is my son’s favorite player and he misses seeing Torres’ selfie celebration.

I want to end with a positive, however, and that is wrapped around the concept of regression to the mean. In the case of Orlando City this would actually likely be a positive regression as opposed to a negative one. During the last four years, MLS has been remarkably stable in terms of goals/shot on target (35%, 32%, 33%, 33%) and goals/shot (12%, 11%, 11%, 11%). Just because the league has been stable does not mean that Orlando City automatically will improve, but with the talent of the players on the squad and their history, I think it is more likely than not that Orlando City’s low performance so far in 2024 will come back up towards league average — much like a Major League Baseball player’s batting average on balls in play often evens out over time based on their level of skill.

Orlando City has talented players, including many who led the team to the best record in the team’s history last season, and I believe it is likely that we will start seeing small increases in goals/shot on target and goals/shot as the season progresses. I certainly hope we do, because it is much more fun when Orlando City masters this simple game and scores the ball, scores the ball, and scores the ball.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 6/14/24

Orlando City prepares to take on LAFC, Lions linked with Alan Saldivia, Orlando City B draws against Chattanooga FC, and more.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Happy Friday! I’m working for most of this weekend but am still looking forward to the absurd amount of soccer ahead of us. Both Orlando City and the Orlando Pride have games Saturday, and the 2024 Euros should give us some exciting matches from teams we don’t watch all too often. Let’s dive right into today’s links!

Orlando City Prepares for LAFC

The international break is over and Orlando City is back in action Saturday night for a home game against LAFC. It’s been a difficult season for the Lions so far, and they have been shut out in three of their past five games. Points have been hard to come by at home for Orlando and a match against one of the best teams in the Western Conference won’t make that any easier. With David Brekalo at the Euros, Rodrigo Schlegel is expected to start and it would be his 100th MLS appearance. Ramiro Enrique would also make his 50th appearance across all competitions as a Lion should he take the field.

Lions Linked Reportedly Bow Out of Bid to Sign Defender Alan Saldivia

With the MLS summer transfer window looming, a rumor surfaced of Orlando City making an offer to sign Uruguayan center back Alan Saldivia from Colo-Colo in Chile. The Lions reportedly offered $1.5 million for the 22-year-old, but that doesn’t reach the $2.2 million Colo-Colo wants at minimum. The Lions reportedly would not go higher. While center back isn’t exactly a pressing need for the Lions at this time, Saldivia would have given the team a young and talented player who could anchor the defense for years to come.

Orlando City B Drops Points in Disappointing Draw

OCB hosted Chattanooga FC and had to settle for a 2-2 draw after giving up a lead not once, but twice. The Young Lions had Chattanooga on the ropes late in the match, taking the lead just before the end of normal time, only to get punched in the mouth in stoppage time and then lose the penalty shootout. It was the second straight 2-2 draw at home for the Young Lions and they’re still on the hunt for their first win this month. OCB’s next game will be on the road against New York City FC II on Wednesday.

Getting Ready for the MLS NEXT Cup Playoffs

The MLS NEXT Cup playoffs kick off Saturday as the best teams across four age groups compete in a knockout format. Orlando City’s U-15 squad was recognized as one of the title contenders in its age group and will take on Real Salt Lake in the round of 32 on Saturday . The team also did well in MLS NEXT Flex, and Jakob Garcia, who has scored 18 goals in 21 games, is the kind of attacker who can make all the difference in knockout matches. Orlando’s U-17 team is capable of making a run as well, although it faces a tough first match on Sunday against the Philadelphia Union, which won the 2024 Generation Adidas Cup. It should be a fun tournament, and hopefully Orlando’s teams can advance far enough to be included in the games streamed on MLS Season Pass.

Free Kicks

  • Carl Robinson is back in MLS after Atlanta United hired him as an assistant coach. The 47-year-old played for Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls to close out his playing career and also served as the head coach of the Vancouver Whitecaps.
  • Chicago Fire Designated Player Xherdan Shaqiri reportedly wants to return to Europe. The 32-year-old has been with the Fire since 2022 but hasn’t lived up to his billing and his contract is set to expire after this season.

That’s all I have for you today. I hope you all have a fantastic Friday and rest of your weekend!

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