The Lions headed up to New Jersey to face a Red Bulls team that generally protects its home grounds and, despite playing poorly, Orlando City had a chance to escape with a late draw. Unfortunately, shots don’t always go where you want them to and the Lions fell 2-1 to New York.
It was Orlando City’s 200th MLS regular-season game but it was one to ultimately forget. The Lions were forced to wear the PRIMEBLUE Parley kits that made them look like FC Cincinnati, and…well, they played like FC Cincinnati, to be honest.
Here are the things I took away from Orlando’s first L of 2021:
If you keep taking players off a good team, it eventually catches up. Ruan’s continued absence and a personal matter Rodrigo Schlegel had to attend to forced Michael Halliday into the starting lineup for the first time on Saturday. While Halliday wasn’t terrible, he did turn the ball over in dangerous spots and was culpable on New York’s opening goal. If he’s not going to continue tracking Caden Clark there, he absolutely must make sure to communicate that a teammate has to pick him up. It did not appear Antonio Carlos knew much about Clark until the ball was in the net.
Up front, the second game of Nani’s ridiculous two-game suspension was obviously an issue. The midfield lacked composure on the ball and passes were off line just enough to force bad touches or simply turn the ball over on numerous occasions. Oscar Pareja said Mauricio Pereyra had experienced some tightness during the week and gave him 45 minutes anyway, but it was clearly not the normal Magic Mo out there.
It’s been painful watching Chris Mueller struggle in 2021 after his outstanding 2020 campaign. Mueller was deployed on the left again during the second match of Nani’s suspension and he just doesn’t look comfortable there at all. He’s still working his tail off but generally isn’t providing the expected width, he’s not generating consistent danger, and he’s been too passive at times. He had an opportunity to fire a quick shot in the box Saturday afternoon but instead tried to dribble past two defenders and was dispossessed.
But it isn’t just when he’s on the left. Silvester van der Water sent him on his way on the break just right of center and a heavy touch forced Mueller to re-gather the ball and by that time the defense had gotten into position to block his shot attempt. He’s not beating defenders 1-v-1, he’s passing backward a lot to restart attacking sequences, and he’s opting not to shoot when he’s got room to do so. The Lions need Mueller to get his swagger back and it might only take one shot going in to do it.
Flawed Strategy at the Start
Pareja said in his postgame press conference that the coaching staff picked a lineup and strategy expecting Orlando’s midfield to boss New York’s. That’s certainly not the way the game unfolded. The Lions were on their heels the entire first half and for stretches of the second half. Orlando struggled to break lines with poorly placed or weighted passes and every time the Lions turned it over, the Red Bulls looked threatening. Orlando changed tactics at halftime but the game was already 1-0 at that point, due mostly to one of those turnovers in transition. Instead of looking for a shot on goal, the Lions were picking a goal conceded out of their net because of a poor connection on the counter. Sebas Mendez had a shockingly poor game by his standards in terms of being loose with the ball and Andres Perea didn’t add much to the attack or to keeping possession.
The Lions’ turnovers were caused by numerous factors. Sometimes it was a misplaced pass, just a bit too far ahead or behind. Sometimes those passes were accurate but telegraphed. Often players in the middle of the pitch underestimated how much time and/or space they had before defenders closed and they kept the ball too long. Sometimes touches were simply too heavy and that little extra space between player and ball allowed the defender to close and poke the ball away.
Water Under the Bridge
Silvester van der Water has most certainly earned more minutes with his last two outings, tallying a goal and an assist. His 88th-minute miss on Saturday was a bad one, certainly, but without his goal four minutes earlier, the team’s not even in the match. After the match, van der Water seemed more concerned with the missed shot than the goal, which is the way you’d want your players to react, provided he puts the miss behind him and continues to be a dangerous attacking player.
The Dutchman provided an excellent ball to spring Mueller shortly coming on but Cash couldn’t control it on a day when it seemed like every bounce went the wrong way. So, it could have become a two-goal, one-assist outing in less than half an hour if things had gone more smoothly. I’ve seen enough that my conclusion is there’s just no excuse at this point not to start him every game until/unless Mueller starts producing at last year’s pace again.
There’s still a lot of blamethrowing going on when it comes to Tesho Akindele. I’m here to tell you that he’s not the problem with the offense at the moment. Even when not scoring, Akindele is finding ways to contribute both offensively and defensively. Saturday he listened to what Pareja has been drilling into him and selected the best options in the attack. He had two excellent layoffs for van der Water and should have had a two-assist game as his reward. He made an excellent run in the first half on a give-and-go with Junior Urso, but was forced onto his weaker foot before firing a shot on target. Akindele is more or less the team’s third-choice striker without Daryl Dike and Alexandre Pato, but he’s forged some good early chemistry with van der Water and does so many little things well that don’t show up on the score sheet, such as frequently forcing the opposing goalkeeper to turn the ball over.
Akindele has four direct goal contributions (two goals, two assists) in seven appearances after having just three (all goals) in 17 matches all of last year. He’s registered all four of those goal contributions in the past five games, including the last three straight. His next start will equal his total of starts from last season, his next shot attempt will equal his 12 from all of last season, and his next shot on target will equal the seven he had all of last year too. He’s not a prolific guy, but he’s stepped up his game in 2021. Unfortunately, some other guys have taken a step backward. If the surrounding pieces were clicking the way they had previously been, Akindele would find himself isolated less of the time and might even have better numbers to show for his work.
That’s the way I saw things during Saturday’s match. What did you see? Let me know in the comments section.
Lion Links: 3/4/24
Lions lose big, Tigres is up next, the USWNT wins, USMNT news, and more.
Merry Monday morning, Mane Landers. No, I’m not feeling very merry either, but it’s a tradition at this point. The good news is that we don’t have to wait long for Orlando City to get a chance to make us forget about Saturday. In an effort to help with that, let’s get to the links.
Massacre in Miami
If you’re like me, you turned off Saturday’s Orlando City match at some point. It was easily the worst showing by an Oscar Pareja-coached Orlando City team. Typically, these Lions are mentality monsters and do not give up. I’m not saying that any of the coaches or players will say they did, but the results speak for themselves. I think it best to just put it behind us and move on to the Tigres match, but if you want to revisit it — or if you were fortunate enough not to watch but still want the details — you can read our match recap.
Up Next: Tigres
The early part of the season doesn’t get any easier for Orlando City as the Lions are set to face Liga MX giant Tigres UANL in a Round-of-16 match in Concacaf Champions Cup. Our own Nic Josey touched on the upcoming match. Unlike the previous matches against Cavalry FC, the Lions will play the first leg at home. The match is tomorrow night at 9 p.m. at Inter&Co Stadium. Tigres is coming off a 2-1 loss to Toluca in Liga MX competition. Hopefully, the Lions can shake off the Miami result and take it to Tigres.
It couldn’t happen before the Orlando City match, but Inter Miami is reportedly trading DeAndre Yedlin to FC Cincinnati. Good timing, guys.
In happier news, Malik Tillman scored a very nice goal for PSV against Feyenoord in the 2-2 draw. Tillman made a nifty move through the defender and then slotted it inside the left post.
Tillman isn’t alone in scoring for the Eredivisie club, as both Ricardo Pepi and Sergino Dest have also scored goals this season. In all, the three have 24 goal contributions so far. That ties Mexico for the most by players from another country.
Brentford will be looking to replace departing striker Ivan Toney, and Norwich City striker Josh Sargent is a contender to make the move. Sargent has 11 goals for Norwich so far this season. Christian Pulisic received online death threats after he goaded two Lazio players into receiving red cards in AC Milan’s 1-0 win over the Serie A opponent.
USWNT Rebounds, Blanks Colombia 3-0
The USWNT bounced back from a 2-0 loss to Mexico in the group stage to defeat Colombia 3-0 in a quarterfinal match in the Concacaf W Gold Cup. The U.S. started early with a converted penalty kick by Lindsey Horan. Former Orlando Pride player Alex Morgan drew the foul in the box for the USWNT. Jenna Nighswonger and Jaedyn Shaw added two more goals in the first half. There were no second-half goals, nor were any needed. The U.S. will face Canada in the semifinals on Wednesday.
- Xabi Alonso’s Bayern Leverkusen moved 10 points clear atop the Bundesliga after their 2-0 win over Cologne. It’s a little bit funny that Harry Kane made the move to Bayern Munich and the club might not win a trophy because of Leverkusen’s amazing season.
- NWSL Commissioner Jessica Berman spoke about the growth of women’s soccer in the U.S. amid the joint bid with Mexico for the 2027 Women’s World Cup.
- In a result that everyone hated other than Manchester City fans, Manchester United wasn’t able to help out the rest of the world, falling 3-1 to City on Sunday.
- Catarina Macario scored a goal in her first match back from injury in Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Leicester City.
- The match between Real Madrid and Valencia ended in a 2-2 draw. It also ended on a controversial call when the referee blew the whistle just as Jude Bellingham was scoring what would have been the winning goal.
That will do it for today. Check back for our coverage of the upcoming Tigres and Minnesota United matches later this week. Vamos Orlando!
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways
What did we learn from a thoroughly unenjoyable outing in South Florida?
Well. Orlando City’s second league game of the season was a thoroughly unenjoyable one, as the Lions got played clean out of South Florida by Inter Miami. As much as I hate to do it, we need to talk about this one, so what follows are my five thoughts from a horrific showing in SoFlo.
Early Mistakes Seal Orlando’s Fate
The Lions barely had a chance to get their feet underneath them before Pedro Gallese was picking the ball out of his net. Cesar Araujo received the ball in Orlando’s defensive third and immediately tried to play a blind pass backwards, but it went straight to a Miami player. Once the ball made its way from Lionel Messi to Julian Gressel to Luis Suarez, the latter made no mistake and scored to put OCSC into an early hole from which it would never recover.
Tough Night for Two Lions
Speaking of mistakes, that wasn’t the only one that Araujo made during this game. Miami’s second goal came as a result of Rodridgo Schlegel getting pulled out of position and Araujo failing to track the run of Suarez, who found it all too easy to fire past Gallese and double the deficit for Orlando. Schlegel was also culpable for the third goal, as he was too slow to step up with the rest of the back line, and prevented the tally from being called back for offside as a result. Almost no player in purple had a good game, but it was a particularly rough night for two guys who are normally so good for OCSC.
The Lions didn’t look bad going forward for a lot of this one. They managed to get the ball into some good areas, but just had trouble getting the final ball right that would lead to a chance. The introduction of Luis Muriel and Nico Lodeiro after halftime helped provide a spark early in the second half, but Orlando ultimately couldn’t find a way through and the score only got more and more lopsided as a result. When OCSC finally did fashion a clear-cut chance for Ramiro Enrique, the forward didn’t place his shot far enough in the corner and Drake Callender made a good save as a result.
Lack of Effort Worsens Scoreline
Somewhere around the 53rd minute, things really started to devolve for the Lions. Multiple turnovers in the team’s own half led to chance after chance for the home team, and Miami eventually made Orlando pay. The fifth goal will make for extremely unpleasant viewing, as Dagur Dan Thorhallsson decided to not close down Suarez on the wing, giving him way too much time to put the ball on a plate for Messi to head home, while the rest of the team took their time jogging back as Miami broke forward in transition. Orlando kept coming forward doggedly, but the lack of effort on display at times at the back was shocking and uncharacteristic to see.
I have no idea what happened in this match. As soon as the first goal went in, almost the entire team looked slow, out-of-sorts, and on its heels when Miami had the ball. That sort of thing is unacceptable in any game, but especially in this particular fixture. Yes, the match against Tigres is looming large on Tuesday, but the lineup Oscar Pareja put out was not one that suggested the Lions were punting on this game to throw everything they had at Tigres. Instead, an almost first-choice XI turned in perhaps the worst performance we’ve ever seen from an Orlando team coached by Oscar Pareja. It’s possible that we’ll look back on this game as the moment that this team came together and kicked onto bigger things, but in order for that to happen the Lions need to take a good, hard, brutally honest look in the mirror.
I’m sorry to say that’s the worst Orlando City performance I’ve seen in a very long time. Thankfully, the season is a long one and the Lions have plenty of time to right the ship and get back to playing in the manner we’re used to seeing. I think we’ll learn a lot about what we should expect from this team on Tuesday against Tigres. OCSC has a chance to respond the right way and make a statement, and you can bet I’ll be looking for one. Until then, vamos Orlando.
Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth
Schedule congestion and tough opponents present opportunities for growth.
It is hard to imagine a more intense start to the season than the Lions have faced competing in both the regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup at the same time, yet that is exactly the task that the boys in purple find themselves dealing with only days into the season. With both away and home matches already in the books, let’s examine how strong early season competition can be a key factor in the growth of the squad as the season progresses.
For comparison we can look back to one year ago, as thanks to winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions found themselves in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time in club history. During their short foray in the 2023 version of the competition, they were matched up against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in a two-leg competition. Orlando did something that many MLS sides can not boast by coming out of the first leg in Mexico without conceding a goal and only failed to advance because of the competition’s away goals rule.
At the time, and even looking back through rose-colored glasses, those two performances demonstrated the quality that Orlando City was ultimately capable of, and it was a form which Orlando showcased in the later stretches of the 2023 season.
This year, once again Orlando is faced with stiff competition throughout its early season matches, which present a grand opportunity to build team chemistry and fortitude that will only truly manifest itself as the season progresses. While Cavalry FC may have not presented much a challenge on the pitch, the logistics of starting a season off thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest were challenges that the Lions had to face before a 48-hour turnaround to open the regular season against a CF Montreal side which some are projecting to be a surprise force in the Eastern Conference. Sandwich in the close-out leg against Cavalry in the CCC at home some 72 hours later, and you once again have a recipe for tired legs but early season growth through adversity.
Up next was Saturday’s forgettable trip to square off against archrival Inter Miami. A year ago, Orlando City was one of the only MLS sides to truly frustrate one of the world’s best and unfortunately for players, coaches and fans alike, the first meeting between the rival sides in 2024 ended with a landslide victory for Messi and friends. Still, despite the frustrating loss, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to correct which can only help the squad grow as the season progresses.
As if all of the schedule congestion was not enough, Orlando learned that its prize for dispatching Cavalry in the CCC was a rematch against Tigres, once again in a two-match, survive-and-advance format. The first game will be played two and a half days after having been beaten down by Miami and the second will come a week later, with yet another MLS regular-season match crammed in between.
All in all, once Orlando City is done facing off against Tigres, the team will have traveled roughly 9,700 miles for matches in the first 21 days of the season and played a match roughly every 60 hours. These matches and the quality of the opponents present Orlando and its players with numerous chances for individual and squad growth, and the experience, especially for still a somewhat young team, is something OCSC can draw upon once the late season and playoff push portion of the calendar arrive. I truly believe this early in the season the importance of the results of the matches come secondary to the opportunities for growth when faced with so many challenges so quickly.
Let us know in the comments below if you think that the early season match ups against quality opponents will ultimately hurt or benefit Orlando City and, as always, vamos Orlando!
Lion Links: 3/4/24
Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways
Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth
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