Orlando City B got off to a tough start this season, accumulating only two points in its first seven games. After Friday night’s draw with FC Tucson, the Young Lions have claimed seven points in their last three games. A big reason for this is increased offensive contribution by a greater number of players.
There’s no question that OCB has had defensive problems this season. The first two games saw a defender sent off during each contest, putting the Young Lions at a disadvantage. Multiple goals this season have been due to a defensive lapse that left an opponent open or gave the ball away in a dangerous situation. This problem occurred again Friday night when a bad giveaway by Matheus Silva nearly resulted in an own goal by Leonardo Simas early in the second half.
While the defense has been an issue at times, the team had offensive struggles early in the season as well. OCB scored only three goals in its first six games and didn’t score multiple goals in one game until this point streak began on May 17. Of the four goals scored in those first seven games, Koby Osei-Wusu, a player that has been coming off the bench recently, finished two.
What’s changed these past three games is that there have been greater contributions from others in the team. Much of this is due to experience on the field. With a team largely made up of teenagers, it’s taken a while for them to find their way in the professional league. The offensive play of 17-year-old Moises Tablante, 19-year-old Serginho, and 20-year-old Thiago Souza have noticeably improved as the season has progressed.
Another big change is the addition of Rafael Santos. The midfielder only joined the lineup recently but has been the undisputed leader on the field. OCB Head Coach Fernando Jose de Argila Irurita calls him his “coach on the field,” and he leads the team out each game as captain. The impact of Santos is his experience and understanding of the game. It’s something that cannot be understated when dealing with such a young team.
Only two OCB players scored in the first two games this season, while five different players have scored in the last four games. This isn’t due to more chances being created, but rather the quality of the attempts.
Serginho is not shy about taking shots from distance, something he spoke about after his USL League One Goal of the Week against the Richmond Kickers two games ago. The midfielder said that he works on those long shots during training with the desire to take them during games. Early in the season, Serginho was taking most of the team’s free kicks from outside the box. Most of those shots sailed well high of goal, ending the attack without any challenge to the defense.
Orlando City Development Academy product Tablante is another player who has shown great improvement this season. He’s been very dangerous in the last few games, scoring a pair of goals in wins against Toronto FC II and the Richmond Kickers. Along with Souza, they have proven to be trouble for opposing defenses, both creating in the final third and scoring goals. While Souza’s goals have both come off penalties, it was his effort that forced the foul in the box against Richmond, resulting in the 85th-minute, game-winning goal.
Fans have seen the recent impact of Tablante, Serginho, and Souza, but Friday night showed that the team now has a free-kick specialist. In addition to being the leader on the field, Santos scored the opening goal on a beautiful free kick that rocketed past FC Tucson’s on-loan goalkeeper, Phillip Ejimadu, and nearly scored another in the second half. The second one appeared to be headed for the top corner had Ejimadu not made a fingertip save onto the crossbar.
Defensive mistakes are going to happen when the oldest defender is 23 and the youngest is 18. Even with those mistakes, the Young Lions have had more chances to score than the opposition. They’ve out-shot their opponents in seven out of the first 10 games. The difference is the quality of those opportunities. In the first seven games, OCB only hit the target 29% of the time. In the last three games, they’ve increased that efficiency to 44%.
It’s not that different players have been taking these opportunities, but that those players are taking better shots. When you hit the target more often, you have a better chance of scoring. Rather than relying on Osei-Wusu and William Bagrou to carry the load, the recent offensive production by others has resulted in the team claiming points. If this continues, you could see OCB in the hunt for the postseason in September.