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Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo: Final Score 4-0 as Tired Legs and Too Much Speed Dooms Lions

In a match that saw a number of changes from Orlando’s side, City never found a way into a game dominated by the Dynamo.

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Nick Leyva, The Mane Land

The speed of the Houston Dynamo and the tired legs of the Lions were a bad combination, as Orlando City was blown out, 4-0, at BBVA Compass Stadium. The club suffered consecutive losses for the first time all season, after dropping both matches on its two-game road trip. Alberth Elis, Mauro Manotas (twice), and Romell Quioto provided the goals for Houston.

Orlando City (6-3-0, 18 points) played away to Houston (5-3-1, 16 points) for its third game in just eight days and second game in as many time zones just three days apart, and despite squad rotation, the Lions looked tired and slow throughout the match.

Jason Kreis made several changes, dropping Kaká and Carlos Rivas from the starting lineup and dropping Jonathan Spector from the 18. Giles Barnes started up top with Cyle Larin, atop a midfield of Antonio Nocerino at the bottom of the diamond, Luis Gil and Will Johnson on the wings, and Matias Perez Garcia at the tip. The back line consisted of Donny Toia, Tommy Redding, Jose Aja — in his return to the field — and Scott Sutter.

One noticeable name out of the starting XI for Houston was Cubo Torres, the league’s leading goal scorer. Houston wouldn’t need him.

The Dynamo were able to take advantage early, as they earned a corner kick in the first three minutes and were inside the 18 with the ball three times in that same time frame but were unable to test the MLS Player of the Month for April, Joe Bendik. Unfortunately, that didn’t last.

Toia gave away a bad foul on his own end line on the outside, right of the box early. Houston hit the ensuing free kick well, but fortunately Aja cleared it away. The ball was immediately fed back into the middle of the field, and Houston’s Manotas hit a scary ball just wide of the post. With the pressure never ceasing, the ball was turned over by the Lions again and Houston broke away to earn a penalty kick on a Johnson foul. Manotas took the shot and hit the ball wide left as Bendik was diving the opposite way, giving the Lions a momentary reprieve.

Orlando needed a break and Manotas’ miss seemed the perfect opportunity for Orlando City to take a deep breath and try to work back into the game. But it wasn’t happening for the Lions as they could never really find possession of the ball — Houston was beating them to everything and continued to dominate the game. This proved costly in the 23rd minute, as Elis beat Toia wide and fired a shot on goal that beat Bendik inside the near post on a shot that perhaps the keeper should have stopped.

Orlando City has three losses on the season and all of them came after conceding the first goal. So Elis’ strike was a bad omen.

The best threatening moment of the first half for Orlando City finally came in the 29th minute on a nice build-up, but a turnover from Sutter in Houston’s 18-yard box resulted in a fast break for the opposition. Houston pushed and managed a shot but Orlando’s Redding prevailed and the counter was squashed as the ball sailed over the goal post.

Orlando City finally earned a corner in the 35th minute of the game but it resulted in nothing positive for the men in purple as the ball was easily hit away from being any real threat. It did however, finally seem that Orlando City was pushing further up the field, resulting in better touches and more pressure against the Houston defense. The Dynamo, after 35 minutes of pressing, finally seemed fatigued and Orlando was doing a better job of making things happen at this point.

The story of the first half is simple — Houston dominated all but seven, maybe eight minutes of the game as Orlando City struggled to find its footing. The Dynamo were more than likely wondering how they didn’t score more goals, especially with a missed penalty kick. The Lions had to be thankful they didn’t get scored on more as they looked fatigued and not too much excited about playing within the first 45 minutes.

Orlando City started off the second half a little bit better, even producing its first shot on target in the 47th minute. Johnson fired a shot with a lot of pace but Houston keeper Joe Willis was not bothered as he made a comfortable save. A mere two minutes later, Houston was on the attack as Alex broke down Toia and assisted a beautiful touch pass to Manotas, who hammered the ball into the net. Bendik was able to get a piece of the ball under his leg but the shot was just powerful enough to find its way into the net.

Just before subs Kaká and Rivas made their way into the game, Barnes found an open opportunity in the middle of the 18, but the shot was taken on his weaker foot and ended up sailing away from the goal.

Kaká and Rivas finally made their way onto the field in the 58th minute with hopes of changing the tide of the game. Those hopes would seemingly dissipate rather quickly as Quioto found what seemed to be an entire field of space. Quioto came up with a transition opportunity in the 64th minute but Bendik made an amazing save in a one-on-one situation that could have put Houston up 3-0.

But then the 65th minute came, and Quioto again found himself wide open on the left flank, breaking away with great speed. This time, however, Quioto laid the ball off to a wide open Manotas, who clanked the ball in off the right post, scoring his second goal of the game.  

Larin finally got his first real chance of the game in the 71st minute, an opportunity that came in front of the goal but Willis pushed the ball back into the middle of the 18, where no Orlando City player was able to capitalize.

Kreis subbed Cristian Higuita on for Johnson in the 71st minute. A minute later, Kaká wiggled his way through defenders and set up Gil, who scuffed his shot and Orlando’s opportunity to find a way into the game.

In the 75th minute, Quioto again found himself in acres of space on the left side of the field, where his pace again left defenders in his wake, as he put away his opportunity with a well-placed shot in the top right corner, chipping Bendik. This put Houston up 4-0 and put a cap to the scoring on the night.

The last 15 minutes of the game were played out with Orlando City looking to get a consolation goal, but the final touch was missing as the Lions were unable to capitalize on their opportunities. Houston earned many of the same opportunities where they could have run up the score but Bendik was able to prevent the game from getting further out of hand than it already was.

Orlando City never found its stride in the game and along with that looked fairly fatigued. The motor we are used to seeing was absent from the players and the end result was domination from the Houston Dynamo.


The Lions are back in action at home next Saturday against Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m.

Opinion

Examining Orlando City’s 3-5-2

Let’s talk about Orlando City’s three-center-back formations, and try to determine if they should be the new norm.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

In the last two Orlando City matches against the Philadelphia Union and Inter Miami, Oscar Pareja has deployed his team in 3-5-2, and 3-4-1-2 formations, respectively. While Papi typically prefers to set his team up in a 4-2-3-1, injuries to fullbacks Rafael Santos, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, and Mikey Halliday have necessitated some creative problem solving. The two uses of the 3-5-2 and its slightly tweaked variant have been met with success, as the Lions have taken four points from their last two games and, as a result, there’s been some calls online for the team to persist with the formation. With that being the case, let’s do some digging into how the formation has served OCSC, and try to determine if it’s a viable option going forward.

A big thing to note with Orlando’s use of a three-man back line is the presence of Wilder Cartagena as the middle center back. It isn’t his natural position, but Rodrigo Schlegel’s suspension for the Union game meant that Pareja needed to conjure another center back from somewhere, and he elected to shift Cartagena into the back line rather than use Kyle Smith or one of Abdi Salim or Thomas Williams.

Against Philly, a normal 3-5-2 was used, with Pedro Gallese in goal, David Brekalo, Cartagena, and Robin Jansson in the back line, Ivan Angulo and Facundo Torres as wingbacks, Nico Lodeiro, Cesar Araujo, and Martin Ojeda in the midfield, and Luis Muriel and Duncan McGuire up top. The only tweaks against Miami were Schlegel replacing the injured Jansson and Ojeda pushing up to sit behind the two strikers in a 3-4-1-2 formation.

In the Union game, Orlando did a great job at pushing numbers forward quickly when it won the ball, and all three of its goals came in situations where the attack was pressed quickly when the Lions won possession. The Lions took 13 shots, with eight of them from inside the box, and totaled 1.25 expected goals (xG). The team’s best chances of the night came with McGuire’s headed opener and Muriel’s second goal, as both came from inside the box and both were converted. Against Miami, the Lions took 14 shots, with seven from inside the box, and totaled .69 xG. OCSC’s best chance came from Martin Ojeda’s 32nd-minute shot from inside the box, which was well saved by Drake Callender.

In essence, Orlando created more chances against the Union, and was more clinical about finishing those chances. However, the difference in attacking output wasn’t drastic, and we might be able to put it down to Miami being a better team than Philly and the Lions playing the Herons on short rest.

Against Philly, OCSC had a rough outing defensively. While one of the Union goals came from a penalty kick, the home team took a whopping 29 shots during the game with all but eight from outside the box, for a total of 3.85 xG. Against Miami, the Herons took seven shots with six inside the box for a total of .60 xG. Aside from Gallese stonewalling Luis Suarez just minutes into the game in a 1-v-1 chance, the defense largely did a good job of limiting chances.

Even accounting for two penalty kick attempts inflating Philadelphia’s expected goals, the Lions did a far better job at limiting dangerous chances against Miami. That could be due to the team being more comfortable with the defensive setup after using it for a game or a more cautious approach by Oscar Pareja due to Miami’s considerable firepower, even without the injured Lionel Messi.

The numbers and the eye test say that there’s enough reason to consider continuing to use the formation going forward. The Lions have shown that they can create chances and score goals, and they’ve shown that they can have a solid defensive outing, although it would be nice to demonstrate both characteristics in the same game. That, my friends, is where things start to get tricky, because persisting with the 3-5-2 or a variation of it isn’t as simple as obeying what the numbers say.

Let’s talk about Orlando’s personnel. Thorhallsson and Santos both seem to be working their way back from injury, and once healthy they could theoretically slot in at the two wingback positions, which should help Orlando avoid the defensive mess we saw against the Union. That means we need to figure out what to do with Torres and Angulo. Despite his slow start to the season, Torres is a guy you have to have on the field, and in order to do that, I propose slotting him into Ojeda’s spot in the 3-4-1-2. The problem there is that he hasn’t looked super comfortable when operating as a central playmaker, but this could be resolved by instructing Muriel to drop off McGuire and play a little deeper, and giving Facu free reign to roam into the wide areas where he’s more comfortable.

Assuming Jansson will be missing for a few more games, I think you keep Cartagena at center back, considering how well he’s played there. Ojeda and Angulo come off the bench as impact subs, and you can rotate Ojeda into Lodeiro’s spot in the midfield as necessary to protect the Uruguayan’s legs. Once Jansson is back, he can slot in as the third center back, and Cartagena can move into the midfield, with Nico likely being the man sacrificed in games where Pareja wants more defensive stability, or Cartagena/Araujo dropping to the bench if Papi wants to go in guns blazing. I don’t particularly love that option though, as you generally want your best players on the field, and I have a hard time justifying breaking up the Araujo-Cartagena partnership that’s seen so much success.

The immediate problem with any three-center-back formation is Araujo’s yellow card suspension, which will mean he’s unavailable for Saturday’s game against San Jose. Theoretically, Cartagena could move up the field to take his place and Smith could slot in for the Peruvian, or Felipe could start in Araujo’s place, but if Santos and Thorhallsson are fit enough to start, I think we’ll see the return of a four-man back line. Otherwise, the same lineup would be starting its third game in eight days, and on a West Coast trip to boot. That seems like a recipe for disaster, so while I think there’s a way to trot out a 3-5-2/3-4-1-2, I don’t think we’ll see it on Saturday.


In short, the two formations have shown enough promise for them to merit some more looks, while bearing in mind that we’ve only seen a small sample size. The biggest challenge with continued use comes when Orlando has a clean bill of health and you try to figure out how to get as many of your best players on the field as you can. At that point it becomes a question of whether one of the new formations maximizes this team’s strengths, or if the best course of action is to revert to a 4-2-3-1 and keep the 3-5-2 in the back pocket for when its needed.

Either way, the strategy is going to be something interesting to keep an eye on going forward.

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Lion Links

Lion Links: 5/17/24

MLSPA releases player salaries, Duncan McGuire discusses move to Blackburn, Orlando Pride prepare for the Seattle Reign, and more.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Happy Friday! The weekend is nearly here, with plenty of soccer both here in the domestic leagues and abroad. I have a pretty packed weekend but am looking forward to watching Orlando City and the Orlando Pride in action. It should be a nice next few days, so let’s get it started with today’s links!

MLSPA Releases Player Salaries

The Major League Soccer Players Association unveiled the base salary and guaranteed compensation information for every player under contract with the league as of April 25 — except Wilder Cartagena, apparently. Luis Muriel is the highest-paid Orlando City player, and his $4.3 million in guaranteed compensation is the 12th most in the league, while his base salary is just over $2.83. As for other Orlando newcomers, Nico Lodeiro’s compensation is $800,000 and David Brekalo’s is $683,000.

Lionel Messi predictably tops the list of all players with $20.4 million guaranteed for playing with Inter Miami. To put that number into perspective, it’s more than the compensation of every team in the league except his own team (Miami), Toronto FC, Nashville SC, and the Chicago Fire. Orlando City is 22nd in the league in compensation, clocking in at $15.07 million.

Duncan McGuire Weighs In on Moving to Blackburn

Orlando City forward Duncan McGuire had a hurricane of an off-season due to a transfer saga that nearly saw him join Blackburn Rovers in England. An administration error by Blackburn prevented the move from going through, and McGuire ultimately returned to Orlando. In the time since, there have been reports that Orlando offered him a new contract and that Blackburn still wants him to join in the summer. McGuire spoke about whether he is still interested in a move to Blackburn after the difficult experience.

“It’s tough to say,” McGuire told GOAL.”That was a pretty bad mistake, a pretty bad mistake by them. I’d be open to maybe having a conversation but it would have to be a lot to get me to go back there. On the plane ride back, I just felt like my tail was between my legs. I asked my agent how often this happens and he was like ‘This doesn’t happen’.

“I didn’t burn bridges with my teammates or have it be like ‘Oh you wanted to leave and now you’re back’. When I got back, it was like I never left.”

Orlando Pride Prepare for the Seattle Reign

The Orlando Pride will take their six-game win streak on the road for a match against the Seattle Reign Sunday night. The Reign are coming off of a 4-0 loss to the Portland Thorns in their sixth defeat of the season, but Pride Head Coach Seb Hines discussed how the Reign played better in that match than the score suggests. The Pride have also never won in Washington, and the turf and atmosphere of Lumen Field could give Orlando some trouble after a long trip. Injuries, particularly to the midfield, have made things difficult for the Pride, but midfielder Morgan Gautrat detailed how the team’s chemistry has helped them get results despite the adversity.

Nashville SC Fires Gary Smith

Nashville SC has parted ways with Gary Smith, who had been the club’s only head coach while in MLS. Smith joined Nashville back in 2018, coaching the team for two seasons in the USL Championship before. With a defensive style, Smith led the team to MLS playoff appearances in all four years but couldn’t put together a deep run. Nashville is currently 10th in the Eastern Conference and Rumba Munthali will serve as the club’s interim head coach while the club searches for a new permanent coach.

Charlotte FC Transfers Enzo Copetti Out

Another Designated Player is leaving Charlotte FC, as the club transferred Enzo Copetti to Rosario Central in Argentina’s top flight. The forward recorded eight goals and three assists across all competitions while with Charlotte, and has played less than 500 minutes this season. Copetti is the latest Designated Player transferred out since Dean Smith took over as Charlotte’s head coach, with Kamil Jozwiak sent to Granada and Karol Swiderski loaned to Hellas Verona. Despite the turnover, Charlotte sits fifth in the Eastern Conference and could make some noise this season if it brings in the right players in the summer transfer window.

Free Kicks

  • Former Lion Miguel Gallardo spoke with the folks over at The Blazing Musket about the New England Revolution and the art of goalkeeping.
  • Our condolences go out to the friends and family of Derek Sanderson, who played for many teams across many leagues back in the 1980s, including the American Soccer League’s Orlando Lions.

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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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. Inter Miami CF: Player Grades and Man of the Match

How did your favorite Lions perform in the scoreless draw against Inter Miami?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Well, it wasn’t the most exciting of games, but that’s what you get when you put a rivalry game midweek. Still, Orlando City got a point against a good team, still hasn’t lost to Inter Miami at home, and looked the most defensively solid that it has in quite some time. Here’s how I graded the individual Orlando performances from an even, defensive affair.

Starters

GK, Pedro Gallese, 7.5 — This was another strong performance from Gallese, after he had a good showing in Saturday’s win over the Philadelphia Union. He was called into action mere minutes into the game, and made a great save to deny Luis Suarez in a 1-v-1 situation. He made three saves on the night, but didn’t face any real danger aside from Suarez’s early chance. His distribution wasn’t at its best, as he only passed with 65% accuracy on the night, but he’s far from the only Lion who had some trouble delivering their passes. Overall, he commanded his area well, came off his line at the right times, and made the big save when it was needed. He’s starting to look more like his old self.

D, David Brekalo, 6.5 — Like Gallese, Brekalo built off a good performance in his last game out. He made an excellent block in the seventh minute to deny Robert Taylor, although the play may have been called offside anyway (it wasn’t on the field). He was busy defensively and ended his night with three clearances, two interceptions, one block, and one aerial duel won. He popped up on the offensive end with one shot, which he put on target, and a passing accuracy of 88%.

D, Wilder Cartagena, 7 — If I didn’t know the Peruvian wasn’t a natural center back, then I never would have guessed it. He’s looked a natural at the position through two games. The play he made in the 54th minute to head a ball out for a corner while tracking back towards his own goal with Taylor draped all over him was excellent, and he made several timely interventions while generally keeping things very calm in the center of the back three. He also recorded three clearances, two interceptions, and one block on defense, as well as committing a foul. He also drew a foul of his own and delivered his passes with 80% accuracy. He gets a half-point bump over his compatriots for being a midfielder by trade and looking as good as he did back there.

D, Rodrigo Schlegel, 6.5 — Schlegel made his return from a red card suspension, and had a much calmer game than his last time out. His four clearances led all players, and he also won an aerial duel, and recorded a tackle and two interceptions while committing a foul. Like Cartagena, he drew a foul of his own, and also took one shot (blocked), while passing with 87% accuracy. I was a bit worried about his tendency to burn a little too hot during high pressure games, but he turned in a steady and reliable performance.  

WB/F, Facundo Torres, 6.5 — Like Angulo, Torres’ defensive responsibilities at the wingback position meant he wasn’t as involved on offense as we’ve become accustomed to seeing, although he did move up to forward late in the match shortly before subbing off in stoppage time. He took one shot (off target), drew one foul, made two key passes, completed one cross, and passed the ball with 83% accuracy. On defense, he contributed a tackle, a clearance, and one aerial duel won. He’s always started slowly and the constraints of his position in the last two games are what they are, but this team needs to find a way to get him firing on all cylinders. The Lions are better when Torres is balling, and so far this year he hasn’t been.

MF, Cesar Araujo, 6.5 — As the only true defensive midfielder, Araujo had his work cut out for him in this one, but he performed that work pretty well. He finished with two tackles, an interception, one completed dribble, one aerial duel won, three fouls draw, and a passing accuracy of 95% on 62 attempted passes. The big blemish on his night was from a boneheaded and unnecessary foul on Julian Gressel, which means he’ll be suspended for Saturday’s trip to San Jose. If nothing else, he’ll get a little rest after doing a bunch of running these last two games.

MF, Martin Ojeda, 5.5 — We got to see Ojeda as the no. 10 sitting behind the pair of Luis Muriel and Duncan McGuire, and it just didn’t quite work. The statistics say that he didn’t have a bad night, as he finished with two interceptions, three shots (one off target, one on target, one blocked), two key passes, two crosses, and 87% passing accuracy. The eye test says that things weren’t fully clicking though, and in a game where he was largely freed of defensive responsibilities, he didn’t have the necessary impact at the other end of the field, although Drake Callender did very well to save his low shot in the 32nd minute. Aside from that, his best opportunity to make something happen came when he had an excellent chance to put the ball on a plate for a wide-open Torres at the back post in the 69th minute, but failed to see him, and instead played a harmless low cross that was cleared out for a corner.

MF, Nico Lodeiro, 6.5 — Asked to help facilitate play from deep, Lodeiro looked lively in the first half, although his influence waned as the game went on, which was true of most of the offensively inclined Lions. He totaled one clearance, one shot (which was blocked), one completed dribble, one foul drawn, two key passes, two crosses, and 94% passing accuracy. Lodeiro wasn’t as involved on the offensive end as he probably would have liked to be, but he did some important tracking back on multiple occasions when Miami sent runners from deep during its attacks.

WB, Ivan Angulo, 5.5 — Angulo seemed to be the man Miami singled out to try to pick on, as the visitors repeatedly tested him with chipped or diagonal balls in behind him. They were tests that he failed on several occasions, as he fell asleep on Franco Negri’s back-post run in the seventh minute, and again on Jordi Alba’s run in the 74th. Both occasions required timely interventions from his teammates to spare his blushes, but the visitors went after him for a reason. His night finished with one tackle, one clearance, two interceptions, one completed dribble, and one foul drawn, while passing with 90% accuracy.

F, Luis Muriel, 7.5 (MotM) — Listen, I get being frustrated with players when they don’t hit the ground running and light the league on fire. But for the people who have been vocal online about thinking Muriel looks washed, I just don’t know what to tell you. He contributed a tackle and a clearance, took three shots (one on target, two blocked), drew a foul, won an aerial duel, and completed two crosses and three key passes while passing with 74% accuracy. Oh, and his six completed dribbles were the most of any player on the field by a country mile. Time and again he beat one or multiple Miami players and got the ball into a dangerous area, and his pass in the 32nd minute to set up Ojeda’s shot was genius, as was his run in the 69th minute to set up the same man. He drew a yellow card on Robert Taylor after stealing the ball from the Miami forward in the 65th minute. His only blemishes on the night come from the counter that he and Torres couldn’t manage to fashion a shot from (a big blemish), and the “foul” he committed, and the subsequent booking he was given (much smaller ones). Still, it was a lively, involved performance, and he gets his second straight Man of the Match award.

F, Duncan McGuire, 6.5 — Like his strike partner, Muriel, McGuire also took three shots, one of which was off target, while the other two were blocked. He also recorded two key passes, two completed dribbles, one tackle, and one clearance. I would have liked to have seen him try to stretch Miami’s back line more than he did, but Oscar Pareja may well have given him different instructions. His work tracking back defensively was impressive, but it was an indictment of Orlando’s play in the second half that he had to pop up back there as often as he did.

Substitutes

WB, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, (79′), N/A — Brought on for Muriel, Dagur Dan slotted in at right wingback and had an extended cameo appearance, which wasn’t enough to earn a fair grade. Still, he contributed one clearance and two key passes, while accurately delivering all four of the passes he attempted.

WB, Rafael Santos, (80′), N/A — Santos came on for Angulo but went over to fill the left wingback role. He didn’t record any defensive statistics but completed two dribbles and 91% of his passes, and he was involved in some half-chances for the Lions as the game wound down.

F, Jack Lynn, (85′), N/A Lynn entered the game for McGuire as the clock ticked ever closer to the 90th minute. He wasn’t super involved, and completed two of the three passes he attempted. He’ll want to have the other one back though, as he did really well to bring down a difficult ball and hold play up, only to misplay an easy pass to Santos with his left foot, which stopped a break before it started.

F, Yutaro Tsukada, (90’+3), N/A We got the briefest of looks at the man the Lions signed to a short-term agreement from OCB for the next two matches. Despite coming on late, he had a chance to make the biggest impact of the night, but volleyed a tricky chance over the bar and out of play with the last action of the night.


How did you see the individual performances in this game? Make your voice heard down in the comments, and be sure to vote in our Man of the Match poll. Vamos Orlando!

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