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2023 Orlando City Season in Review: Cesar Araujo

The young Uruguayan had another excellent season anchoring Orlando’s midfield.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City signed Cesar Araujo back in January of 2022. The Uruguayan joined the club on a three-year-deal that had an option year for 2025, and was the Lions’ first ever MLS U22 Initiative signing. While he was only expected to compete for playing time in central midfield during his first season in purple, he quickly became a starter and key piece for the team. Unsurprisingly, he continued to be one of the first names on the team sheet in 2023, and his performances loomed large for OCSC.

Let’s take a look back at his second year with Orlando City.

Statistical Breakdown

Araujo played in 33 of Orlando’s 34 regular season matches, starting 31 of them and accruing 2,733 minutes on the field. On defense he had 58 tackles, 23 interceptions, 30 clearances, and nine blocks. He was fouled a whopping 100 times while committing 47 fouls of his own and picked up eight yellow cards. At the offensive end of the field he took 21 shots and put six of them on target, scoring one goal while providing four assists. He passed the ball with 86% accuracy and completed 20 key passes and 114 long balls.

In the MLS Cup playoffs, Araujo started all three matches and totaled 300 minutes on the field. He had nine tackles, two blocks, and a clearance on defense, while drawing six fouls, committing four, and picking up two yellow cards. On offense he took four shots and put none on target. Araujo did not score a goal but provided an assist and four key passes, and he completed 12 long balls while passing with 89% accuracy.

He started both of Orlando’s games in the Concacaf Champions League and was on the field for 174 minutes. He recorded one interception on defense and drew three fouls while committing four of his own and picking up one yellow card. He did not score a goal, as both of the shots he took were off target, and he passed with 87% accuracy while completing one key pass and seven long balls, but he did not register an assist.

He started all three of the team’s Leagues Cup matches and totaled 270 minutes of play. He had two interceptions and drew eight fouls while committing six fouls of his own, but he was not booked. On offense he took three shots and put two of them on target, scoring one goal. He passed with 87% accuracy and completed two crosses and 11 long balls, registering three key passes and one assist.

Araujo started OCSC’s one match in the U.S. Open Cup and played the full 90 minutes. He recorded one interception and drew seven fouls while committing one of his own, which he was yellow carded for. He distributed the ball with 89% accuracy, completed three long balls, one key pass, and took one shot, which was off target. He did not supply a goal contribution as the Lions were shut out.

Best Game

The midfielder had plenty of great games for Orlando City this year, but the pick of the litter came in the Lions’ 4-0 home win over Toronto FC on July 4. Araujo got the game’s opening goal and the first MLS goal of his career in the 16th minute, when he got on the end of a curled cross from Rafael Santos and powered home an outstanding diving header to give Orlando the lead.

He wasn’t finished though, and as the clock ticked into the 77th minute he delivered a perfectly weighted ball over the top which Dagur Dan Thorhallsson ran onto, took around Greg Ranjitsingh, and calmly slotted home.

In total, he finished with a goal, an assist, eight accurate long balls, 93% passing accuracy, three tackles, and an interception, while putting both of his shot attempts on target. His efforts saw him awarded an 8 out of 10 grade by Marcus Mitchell in our Player Grades piece, a score that also meant he took home the Man of the Match award.

2023 Final Grade

The Mane Land staff gave Araujo a grade of 7.5 out of 10 for the 2023 season. Some of his defensive numbers dropped off slightly following an outstanding debut campaign, although he added more punch to his offensive game during his second year with the team. At the end of the day, he had another extremely strong campaign and he remains one of the best signings of the Oscar Pareja-Luiz Muzzi era.

His grade did drop a half-point from the 8 out of 10 he was given for the 2022 season, but the slight downgrade isn’t really due to a dip in performances. Rather, he didn’t do a ton to build on a fantastic debut campaign, and his level was more or less the same. He didn’t have to do quite as much this season as he was paired with Wilder Cartagena in central midfield and the duo provided the Lions with a stable double pivot. With players of his age, you hope to see growth from year-to-year, and that’s something to keep an eye on going forward.

2024 Outlook

After two excellent seasons in Orlando, Araujo will be back again next year, barring a team from abroad coming in for him. He and Cartagena have formed one of the very best defensive midfield pairings in Major League Soccer, and the youngster still has plenty of room to grow and continue to improve his game. There are undoubtedly teams interested in his services, but the acquisition of Nico Lodeiro seems to point to a front office that wants to get the band back together and make another run at MLS Cup, so unless the Lions get a massive offer, expect to see him in purple next season.

Previous Season in Review Articles (Date Posted)

Orlando City

Orlando City vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Final Score 1-0 as Lions Steal Three Points Late

Jack Lynn’s late strike lifts Orlando City to 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC/Mark Thor

Orlando City (4-5-4, 16 points) claimed an unlikely three points tonight, defeating the San Jose Earthquakes (3-10-1, 10 points) 1-0. Jack Lynn came off the bench early in the game and scored a late winner to give the Lions a much-needed three points.

Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja made two changes to the team that played to a scoreless draw against Inter Miami Wednesday night. Cesar Araujo was out due to yellow card accumulation and Martin Ojeda was left on the bench. They were replaced in the lineup by Dagur Dan Thorhallsson — who started his first game since suffering a concussion on May 4 against FC Cincinnati — and Felipe.

The Lions went back to the same 3-5-2 lineup they displayed against Inter Miami. The three center backs in front of Pedro Gallese were David Brekalo, Wilder Cartagena, and Rodrigo Schlegel. Thorhallsson and Facundo Torres were the wingbacks, while Felipe played behind Nico Lodeiro. Duncan McGuire and Luis Muriel were the striking duo again.

The Lions started this game shorthanded and an early injury to McGuire made things more difficult. It appeared for most of the game like the visitors would eventually concede, but they showed a strong defensive effort. Counter attacks were the best options for both teams as they looked to find a late goal. Solid goalkeeping by Gallese and William Yarbrough kept the game scoreless and a bit of fortune enabled Orlando City to get its first win in San Jose.

The first attack came in the opening seconds when the Earthquakes quickly went forward on the kickoff and created a chance for their newest Designated Player, Hernan Lopez. As the Argentinian arrived at the top of the box, the ball met him for the game’s first shot. He had space but couldn’t get over the ball and it sailed well over the goal.

On the other end, the Lions attacked with Torres on the left. The midfielder sent a pair of nice crosses that landed inside the six-yard box, but neither McGuire nor Muriel could get on the end of them. As a result, they traveled harmlessly across the field.

Trouble struck Orlando City in the 12th minute when McGuire collided with Bruno Wilson on a long ball up field by Gallese. The striker attempted to break his fall with his hand after Wilson undercut him and remained on the ground holding his elbow while the medical staff attended to him. The injury forced the Lions into their first change of the game as he was replaced by Lynn.

“Duncan had that pain there in the shoulder before but the recovery for him has always been good,” Pareja said about his starting striker. “I saw him in the locker, obviously sad with the event. But I see him with a very positive face and a very positive attitude. So let’s wait for the doctors to see what he got. But Duncan has been there before and he came up from that as well very easily.”

“We went through the game plan pretty well this week, so I think everyone on the bench knew what was expected of them if they had to come in,” Lynn said about the early substitution. “So I felt ready.”

In the 20th minute, a give-and-go between Lopez and Carlos Akapo saw Lopez sent down the right. The midfielder was gearing up for a cross, but Felipe slid in with an excellent tackle to knock it out for a corner kick. Vitor Costa and Brekalo went up for the ensuing set piece with the San Jose defender reaching it, but the header was over the target.

The Lions nearly had a chance in the 25th minute when Jackson Yueill was ready to collect a Thorhallsson clearance but slipped. Lynn raced to the ball, but Akapo was closer and quicker, reaching it before the Lions striker.

Gallese was forced into his first save of the night in the 26th minute. San Jose worked the ball across the field until it ended up with Carlos Gruezo from distance. It was a hard strike by the midfielder, but right at Gallese, who knocked it away.

The Orlando City goalkeeper was forced into another save in the 30th minute. A cross into the box by Cristian Espinoza was flicked on by Costa to the back post where Rodrigues was wide open. The center back’s shot was directly at Gallese, who got down to block it away with his legs.

The Lions had their first good chance of the game in the 35th minute. A Schlegel throw-in was headed out by Wilson, but only to Thorhallsson near the top of the box. The wingback had plenty of time and his second touch was a shot towards goal. The ball skipped just wide, but it was close enough for Yarbrough to feel the need to dive after the attempt.

In the 37th minute, Espinoza sent a curling ball into the six-yard box. Brekalo headed the ball out the other end, but Rodrigues was there again, left wide open. Thorhallsson attempted to close him down, but the center back got his shot off. This time he sent the ball past Gallese, but just wide of the far post.

The hosts nearly scored in the 43rd minute when, after a blocked cross, Akapo laid it back for Espinoza on the right side. The playmaker sent a dangerous cross through the box and beyond the reach of several players. Amahl Pellegrino was making a run to the back post and it appeared as though he’d reach it. Fortunately for Orlando, it was just too far and went all the way out of play for a goal kick.

San Jose led in all major statistical categories after 45 minutes of play with more possession (55.8%-44.2%), shots (7-5), shots on target (3-1), corner kicks (4-3), crosses (9-6), and better passing accuracy (82%-78%). However, two quality saves by Gallese kept the hosts off the board and the Lions got into the locker room scoreless.

The host had the first dangerous attack of the second half in the 51st minute. Quick passing from Gruezo and Jeremy Ebobisse sent Espinoza behind Orlando’s back line. The second-touch shot by Espinoza was wide, but the flag went up for offside.

Orlando City should’ve taken the lead in the 59th minute when Angulo made a long run into the San Jose box and played it across. Thorhallsson met the ball with plenty of time and space. The Icelandic player tried to send it inside the near post, but put it wide.

The Earthquakes had their second chance of the half in the 62nd minute when Costa brought the ball down well and carried it across the top of the box. He found Espinoza with some space and the midfielder’s first touch was a shot. However, it didn’t trouble Gallese at all, rolling well wide of the target.

Muriel forced Yarbrough into his toughest save of the night in the 73rd minute. Lodeiro found the striker left of the box. He took on Yueill, creating enough space for a shot. It wasn’t a bad attempt, but Yarbrough did well to get down and knock it wide, where Costa was able to clear.

The Orlando City forward attempted another shot in the 76th minute but this one didn’t bother Yarbrough as much. After receiving the ball short from Torres, Muriel dribbled inside and attempted a long shot. It was heading over the crossbar as soon as it left his foot and sailed well over the target.

It looked like San Jose would have a good chance to score in the 78th minute when Costa received the ball just outside of the box. He used a strong touch to get past Thorhallsson that went straight to second-half substitute Benji Kikanovic. The first touch was back to Costa who shot with space, but hit it wide.

Immediately after the miss, Pareja made two more changs. Martin Ojeda and Rafael Santos came into the game for Torres and Thorhallsson. The changes would prove to be vital in the Lions’ win.

The Lions nearly scored in the 82nd minute when Santos sent a beautiful ball with Lynn entering the box between Rodrigues and Costa. The Orlando City striker was just looking to get a touch on the ball and barely got his head to it, but Yarbrough came out to make himself big and the ball bounced off of his knee.

An Orlando City corner kick in the 86th minute turned into a good chance for San Jose when the clearance turned into a transitional attack. Jack Skahan came out with the ball and, after a long run, played it wide for Preston Judd. The substitute immediately sent it across the field for Espinoza, who cut inside to lose Santos and took a shot for the far post. Gallese dove for the ball, but it went just wide.

In the 88th minute, Skahan took the chance himself and nearly scored. Receiving the ball from Niko Tsakiris just outside of the box, the attacker took one touch to control it before aiming to the far post. The shot appeared to be on target, but Gallese dove to his right, tipping it wide. The ensuing corner kick was headed out by Brekalo to Angulo and the Lions broke the other way.

Dribbling down the left, Angulo used his speed to pass and remain ahead of Skahan. His cross was to the other side of the box for Ojeda, who attempted to volley it on goal. He mishit the attempt, but the ball went off the heel of Wilson and right to Lynn inside the six-yard box. It was an easy finish for him, giving the Lions an unlikely 1-0 lead.

“If I remember correctly, I think it was a pretty quick transition. Ivan was sprinting down the sideline and I think me, Tincho (Ojeda), and someone else were just busting our butt to get into the box,” Lynn said about the play. “And, you know, fortunately the ball fell to me kind of the top of the six and I just passed it in.”

“Orlando City has another fantastic striker. A number nine that came from college and a player he has been proven already enough in the second group,” Pareja said about Lynn. “And the evolution of Jack is great. We kept him in the game because we knew that he just needed one action. But this time we were wrong. He needed just two and he put the ball in the back of the net. That’s what he can do.”

The fourth official showed five minutes of second-half stoppage time, which gave the visitors a little more work to do. Pareja made his final two changes two minutes into added time and they were defensive moves as his team looked to see out the game. Defender Kyle Smith and defensive midfielder Jeorgio Kocevski entered for forwards Muriel and Lynn.

Despite needing a goal and pushing numbers forward, San Jose couldn’t create anything in the final minutes. In fact, Orlando City held possession for much of injury time, enabling them to see the game out and claim all three points.

At full time, San Jose had slightly more possession (51.1%-48.9%), corner kicks (6-5), and crosses (13-11), as well as better passing accuracy (82%-80.9%). Meanwhile, Orlando City ended the game with more shots (12-11) and both teams put four chances on target. Lynn being in the right place at the right time ended up being the difference.

“It was a great result for a group of players that are giving us all of the energy that they have, and they showed a lot of pride on the pitch, trying to resolve the problems,” Pareja said about the game. “I thought they had a lot of personality to overcome some bumps in the game. I liked much better the second half when we had more control. The boys that came off of the bench helped us a lot too. But I saw a team that is growing, their confidence is growing. The way we’re playing is much better in terms of the efficiency in the other side of the box. And so we’re proud, but the thing that we are so happy to see is them battling all the time and trying to do the right things.”

The Lions got off to a tough start this year, staying near the bottom of the Eastern Conference for the first quarter of the season. But they’ve now gone three games unbeaten, including two wins and a draw against the team currently on top of the conference. The run has seen them jump into 10th place and only a point out of eighth.

“Well, always has been our desire is to get results and not need to have the bad moments in order to bounce back,” Pareja said about the recent run. “They always want to win games and get good performances. We have navigated very difficult times without losing the direction. They are a group of friends there that work together every morning. We still need a lot of things to get better. We still have a lot of work to be done. And we all know it. but it’s much better when you do it while winning.”

“I think the coaching staff did a really good job of reminding us we’re a really good team,” Lynn added about turning the season around. “Even though we weren’t getting the results early in the year, you’re putting in some good performances. And I think recently we’ve been able to see those performances translate into results and hopefully we can continue that going forward.”

The next chance the team has to turn a good performance into a result is next Saturday night when they welcome the Columbus Crew to Inter&Co Stadium.

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Orlando City

Orlando City vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More

Orlando City completes its three-matches-in-eight-days marathon with a cross-country trip to San Jose.



Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Welcome to your match thread for a late Saturday night matchup between Orlando City SC (3-5-4, 13 points) and the San Jose Earthquakes (3-9-1, 10 points). This is the only meeting between the teams in 2024 and the first time the teams have met since 2021.

Here’s what you need to know ahead of tonight’s match.


Orlando City is 2-1-3 in the previous six MLS meetings with the Quakes since the club joined Major League Soccer in 2015. The Lions have yet to win an away game in the series, however, going 0-1-2 on the road against San Jose.

The most recent meeting took place on June 22, 2021, with the Lions beating the Quakes down, 5-0. Orlando got things started with an early penalty kick goal by Nani, followed by braces from Benji Michel and Daryl Dike to easily put the game away. The lasting memory from the game is Michel’s celebratory dance wearing a cowboy hat that came out of the stands.

Prior to that Orlando City romp, the last time the teams met was on Aug. 31, 2019 when the Lions got freight trained 3-0 at Avaya Stadium, giving the Quakes their first win in the series. San Jose’s offense came via a Chris Wondolowski brace and an early opening goal by Magnus Eriksson. Orlando looked flat and weary out of the gate.

The Lions were victorious in Exploria Stadium in the 2018 meeting on April 21, a 3-2 Orlando win. It was the first win in the series for either side after three straight draws. Chris Mueller, Sacha Kljestan, and Dom Dwyer gave the Lions a 3-0 lead before Florian Jungwirth pulled two back in the game’s late stages.

The Lions led all of the first three matches in the second half only to see San Jose pull level, with two of those tying goals coming late. In the 2017 meeting, Carlos Rivas finally broke the scoreless tie and gave Orlando City the lead in the 81st minute, but Wondolowski spoiled the Lions’ night with an equalizer two minutes later as the teams drew at Avaya Stadium, 1-1.

In 2016, the Lions were gut-punched in the 94th minute in an emotional match that ended in a 2-2 draw. It was the first home match following the Pulse nightclub tragedy and what appeared to be a storybook ending to a cathartic win turned sour on a last-gasp equalizer by Shea Salinas. Seb Hines — now in his second full season as the Orlando Pride’s head coach — opened the scoring for Orlando, only to see Chad Barrett tie it up. Julio Baptista restored the lead in stoppage time, but Salinas ruined everything.

The two teams also drew in the first meeting, a 1-1 affair at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, with the Lions down to 10 men after Brek Shea was sent off in the first half. Kaká and Wondolowski each scored from the penalty spot four minutes apart in that initial meeting.


Orlando City is unbeaten in its last two games following a 0-0 home draw against Inter Miami Wednesday night. The Lions and Herons looked shattered in the second half of that game, and neither side would give an inch defensively. On the first clear looks at goal the teams had, both goalkeepers were outstanding, keeping the game scoreless. Orlando looks to earn points for the third straight match, but the team didn’t get to rotate much in the last week due to injuries, and things may not be back to normal just yet.

San Jose is in the Western Conference cellar with just three wins and 10 points from 13 matches. Still, the Earthquakes can score. San Jose has put the ball in the net 22 times this season. Only three Western Conference teams and five clubs in all of MLS have scored more. San Jose’s big problem has been shipping goals. The Quakes have conceded 32 times in 2024, which is dead last in Major League Soccer. The closest team to giving up that many is Portland, which has yielded 27 goals and just beat San Jose 4-2 on Wednesday night. That game was wild, with a horrible penalty throwing the Timbers a lifeline while they trailed 2-0 late. The bad call also resulted in the sending off of defender Bruno Wilson, though he will be eligible for this match after his one-game suspension was rescinded by the Independent Review Panel. Portland not only scored the penalty, but roared back to win 4-2 in a crazy game that included a second penalty on the Quakes later in the match.

Former FC Dallas coach Luchi Gonzalez is in his second season at the helm in San Jose. His team features a standout forward in Cristian Espinoza, who has two goals and a team-leading eight assists on the year. That gives him a direct goal contribution on nearly half of San Jose’s 22 goals in 2024. He’ll be the man Orlando must stop from scoring or setting up others, but the Quakes still have Jeremy Ebobisse (three goals), as well as a new No. 9, Amahl Pelligrino, who leads the Quakes with four goals on the year.

The Lions will need to avoid getting in a shootout with the Earthquakes, try to conserve energy, and play tight defense like they did on Wednesday.

“A really short period to prepare the game, but it’s the way that it is,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said about tonight’s game. “We’re traveling to the west coast, we had a very good flight, the boys look very fresh, and today we will train in the evening to keep our preparation and to keep recovering the team. So basically, that has been the routine so far and we’re just trying to get in and use this momentum to keep adding points.” 

The Lions will play this west coast game without Ramiro Enrique (right ankle), Mikey Halliday (right knee), Robin Jansson (right ankle), and Tahir Reid-Brown (left thigh). Cesar Araujo is also out tonight due to yellow card accumulation. The Earthquakes have three injuries heading into this game, with Daniel Britto (lower body), JT Marcinkowski (knee), and Jamar Ricketts (lower body) listed as out.

Match Content

Official Lineups:

Orlando City (3-5-2)

Goalkeeper: Pedro Gallese.

Defenders: Rodrigo Schlegel, Wilder Cartagena, David Brekalo.

Midfielders: Facundo Torres, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, Felipe, Ivan Angulo.

Attacking Midfielder: Nico Lodeiro.

Forwards: Duncan McGuire, Luis Muriel.

Bench: Mason Stajduhar, Kyle Smith, Jack Lynn, Favian Loyola, Rafael Santos, Martin Ojeda, Abdi Salim, Yutaro Tsukada, Jeorgio Kocevski.

San Jose Earthquakes (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: William Yarbrough.

Defenders: Vitor Costa, Bruno Wilson, Rodrigues, Carlos Akapo.

Defensive Midfielders: Jackson Yueill, Carlos Gruezo.

Attacking Midfielder: Amahl Pelligrino, Hernan Lopez, Cristian Espinoza.

Forwards: Jeremy Ebobisse.

Bench: Jacob Jackson, Tanner Beason, Preston Judd, Benji Kikanovic, Paul Marie, Alfredo Morales, Daniel Munie, Jack Skahan, Niko Tsakiris.


REF: Malik Badawi.
AR1: Ryan Graves.
AR2: Adam Garner.
4TH: Brandon Stevis.
VAR: Kevin Stott.
AVAR: Mike Kampmeinert.

How to Watch

Match Time: 10:30 p.m.

Venue: PayPal Park — San Jose, CA.

TV/Live Stream: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+

Radio: FM 96.9 The Game (English), Mega 97.1 FM (Spanish).

Twitter: For rapid reaction and live updates, follow along at @TheManeLand, as well as Orlando City’s official Twitter feed (@OrlandoCitySC).

Enjoy the match. Go City!

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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.



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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