Orlando City Experimenting With New Formation This Preseason



When Orlando City takes the field on Feb. 25 against the New York Red Bulls, the team might look a bit different from last season. In addition to the most extensive player turnover since the current regime took over in 2020, Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja has been experimenting with a new formation during the preseason. However, that doesn’t mean everything will change.

Since Pareja took over as head coach three years ago, Orlando City has primarily displayed a 4-2-3-1 formation, which is among the most popular in today’s game. The two outside backs would push forward into the attack, leaving the center backs alone on the back line. This placed more responsibility on the defensive midfield position to cover in case the opposition mounted a counter attack.

The two starting outside backs during the past three seasons have been Ruan and Joao Moutinho. However, Moutinho was out of contract following the 2022 MLS season and left for Italy. Shortly after that, the Lions traded Ruan to D.C. United for the second overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft.

Orlando City has now completed three of its preseason scrimmages and has displayed the same formation in each contest. This new look features three center backs and two wingbacks. As a result, the team has a three-man back line when on offense and a five-man back line defensively. Defensive midfielder Cesar Araujo still has defensive responsibilities, but has had more freedom to push forward with an extra defender in the game.

If the Lions end up using this formation in the regular season, it’s fair to assume that the three center backs would be Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, and Rodrigo Schlegel. After all, they have been the three primary center backs during the last three seasons. But Carlos has yet to play in the preseason, and it is not certain that Pareja would use this formation when he has both Jansson and Carlos available to anchor the defense. During this experimental preseason, the coaching staff has deployed a new face to the back line in Wilder Cartagena.

The Peruvian joined the club on loan last season, and Orlando exercised its option to extend the loan into the 2023 campaign. Originally a defensive midfielder, Cartagena has played further back during the first three scrimmages, joining Schlegel, Jansson, and Abdi Salim in different starting lineups.

The other change is moving attacking midfielder Ivan Angulo to right wingback. The Colombian started the first two scrimmages against Minnesota United and FIU in that role, playing about 80 minutes in both games. As a result, the midfielder says he’s feeling more comfortable and is ready to take on that role moving forward if Pareja decides to play him there. But he played a different position against the Colorado Rapids Saturday night, indicating the coaching staff sees him as a versatile option.

Despite the potential change in formation, Pareja says that the team’s principles remain the same.

“It’s normal that the new players and the new characteristics just find a different way to express on the field, the model,” Pareja says about the new formation. “I don’t think the game is so rigid that the formation is what dictates the model of the game or the idea of the game. Our concepts are not going to change. But you’ll probably see a different map on the field. That’s because the characteristics of the players are different. The idea is there because that’s our way to see the game.” 

The concept Pareja speaks of includes keeping the ball on the ground and using short passes. It’s something the club considered when bringing in new players and one that drew some to the team.

“They want to play football and keep it on the ground and play short passes, which I actually like to do,” Icelandic midfielder Dagur Dan Thorhallsson said. “And I want to keep the ball, which the coaches of the team want to do. So that’s a big part of why I came here.”

While the primary concept of play will remain the same, the possible new formation and player turnover means the team has had a lot of work to prepare for the upcoming season. Orlando has been working on all phases of the game, but there’s still more work to do in the latter part of the preseason. The team came back from a two-goal deficit on Saturday night to draw the Rapids 2-2. It’s a good sign moving forward, but the coaches want to see more when it comes to scoring.

“The goal is the most difficult thing in soccer,” Orlando City Assistant Coach Josema Bazan said after the game. “So to score two goals in one match is very important. That’s the part of the game, the face of the game we have to work more. Because we’ve worked with the line of five, we’ve worked defensively, we’ve worked in the middle third, and we’ll work in the last week of the preseason on the latter.”

The 2023 MLS season is quickly approaching. After playing Stetson on Wednesday, the Lions will take on the New England Revolution in the preseason finale, their only preseason fixture open to the general public. When most fans get their first look at the new squad, they might see some differences from the last three seasons, but other things will look similar.

“We’ve built on our system of play and how we want to go about playing this year,” forward Jack Lynn said Saturday night.

It will be interesting to see how the preseason lineups translate to the regular season once the games start to count.


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