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Orlando City Offense Needs Facundo Torres to Avoid Early Season Slump in 2024

Lofty expectations will be placed on the Uruguayan in his third MLS season.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

The 2024 Major League Soccer season is flying towards us at a blistering speed, and while the preseason days may be numbered, Orlando City finds itself making the final preparations for the upcoming campaign. The luxury that is afforded to Orlando City this season is that the majority of the question marks which existed on the roster have now been answered with moves to address needs that were created by off-season departures. Mix in the projected play of several veteran pieces at this point and fans will have a fairly good idea of what Orlando City will look like on the field.

With all that said, the true piece of the puzzle which will dictate the vast majority of the team’s early season offensive success will be the play of star winger Facundo Torres. The Uruguayan international is now entering his third year with the club, after he was initially signed back on Jan. 25 2022 at the ripe old age of 21. Torres has become a fan favorite for good reason, as he has been a team leader in the vast majority of offensive statistics the last two years.

There are two caveats to his game, however, which may frustrate casual observers and die-hard fans alike. First, there’s his reluctance to use his non-dominant, right foot, which at times has certainly resulted in missing goal-scoring opportunities and has made his patented cutback easily predictable for defenders. The second, which I will focus on here, may actually be the easier bug to squash β€” it has taken Torres time to truly get into his top form in each of his two previous MLS seasons.

In his first season with the club, Torres started slowly, with only three goals to his credit throughout the first five months of the season. An adjustment to MLS was to be expected and was a plausible reason for the slow start. It took all the way until July for Torres to truly blossom into the player he had been billed as, and in that month alone, Torres accounted for four goals, including two in the MLS regular season, one in the U.S. Open Cup match against the New York Red Bulls, and another in Orlando City’s friendly match against Premier League giants Arsenal. Over the final three months of the season, Torres netted seven goals, including a brace in the U.S. Open Cup Championship.

That late-season form propelled Torres to be named to the Uruguayan World Cup squad and generated a significant amount of hype heading into his sophomore season.

Unfortunately for Torres and Orlando City, the narrative for 2023 quickly began to resemble his first year with the team. After scoring on a penalty kick against the Red Bulls on opening day, Torres hit a dry spell that saw no goal or assist contributions over the next two months until he found the back of the net against the L.A. Galaxy on April 29. A goalless month of May again saw Torres heading into the summer stretch looking for his form. From June to October, however, Torres caught fire once again, peaking throughout the summer into the fall as he scored 12 goals over the final four months of the season, including two braces. While his total goal contributions from 2022 to 2023 were actually down by one, as he had tallied nine goals and 10 assists in his rookie campaign and 14 goals with four assists in 2023, something about the way that he finished the MLS regular season just felt different.

For my money there was no greater example of Torres reaching a new level of form than when he came off the bench late and down against the Columbus Crew and helped spark one of the best comeback victories in Orlando City history.

The video clip doesn’t even begin to capture how the momentum changed that night when Torres took the field. Not initially supposed to play in the match due to a knock, Torres scored in the 73rd minute and then his literal-heads up play (earning an assist by his effort to get the ball back in front of goal) led to the winning goal at the death.

Every player goes through strong runs of form and other matches that they simply need to forget and move past. For the 2024 Lions, Torres, no longer a rookie adjusting to the rigors of MLS, will have the weight of the club’s offense on his shoulders. He doesn’t necessarily need to put in an All-Star-caliber performance to start the year, but he does need to be special, which is something he has showcased many times before. He also has to contribute early and often in the way that his is capable of for the offense to have the success that it will need in an incredibly competitive Eastern Conference. Even when the ball doesn’t seem to be able to find the back of the net, it would be a nice cherry on top to see Torres’ assist tally improve from last season as he continues to involve his teammates.

I expect that Torres is capable of a great year, and not only do I expect it from him, the Orlando City attack in general will need to expect it of him weekly. To the fans out there, I say continue to simply enjoy his play while he is a Lion, because who really knows how much longer a talent like his may be in town?


Do you think Torres will be able to avoid as many big droughts as he has experienced in years past? Will he be the cornerstone of the offensive attack, or do you see another player leading the Lions this year? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, vamos Orlando!

Opinion

Thoughts from Orlando City’s Open Training Session

What did we learn from an early morning summer scrimmage?

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Sean Rollins, The Mane Land

Orlando City opened up the gates of its training facility today for season ticket members to take in a morning training session. The team took the field close to 8:30 a.m. and proceeded to run a first team vs. second team scrimmage for the better part of an hour. The first team was made up of mostly regular-season starters with the exception of those players currently representing their countries on international duty or those rehabbing injuries.

Efforts put in during practice and on the training pitch should always be taken with a small grain of salt, but what follows are my rapid reactions from a hot and sunny training morning.

4-4-2 Formation

The first-team Lions took the field in a 4-4-2 configuration with the likes of Rodrigo Schlegel, Nico Lodeiro, and Luis Muriel on the pitch in their usual positions. Prior to the last match, it appeared as if Orlando might move away from the 3-5-2, but it never changed back from the shape used for the better part of the last month. I do, however, expect that the team will utilize a four-man back line when Orlando City takes the pitch again on June 15 against LAFC with Duncan McGuire and Muriel up top.

The action during the scrimmage period was mostly one sided, but without playmakers like Facundo Torres on the pitch during training, it seemed as if most of the action was funneled through Ivan Angulo up the left side of the field. The back line played well together in the scrimmage but did allow the second-team players to complete several long balls from time to time.

Old Habits Die Hard

One of the things I was most interested to observe during the training session was how the team attacked the goal and how aggressive their shot taking would be. Unfortunately, it does appear that the old saying “you play how you practice” could be seen in full force as several culprits who have shown bad decision-making during matches used the same poor decision-making in practice. I wish that I could say the results were different but they were not. There are still a handful of players who are very touch happy and often missed out on opportunities to take shots by trying to over dribble or by being too cute with combination passes in the box.

For a team that mustered fewer shot attempts than I have digits on one hand during its last outing against the New York Red Bulls, I would love to see the boys in purple pull the trigger from anywhere and at any time. It seems as though some of the offensive issues that have plagued the attack during matches is coming from habits shown on the training ground.

Jack Lynn’s Impressive Scrimmage

With McGuire away with the U-23 USMNT squad and Ramiro Enrique not on the training pitch, Jack Lynn started alongside Muriel up top for the first team. Lynn was easily the most impressive player from the training session today, scoring in a variety of ways that show he has continued to put in effort behind the scenes to improve his quality. While he may be lacking some of the pure athleticism of McGuire or the savvy of Muriel, Lynn continued to press toward goal throughout the scrimmage and I stopped counting after his third goal.

My favorite effort of his during the session was his first shot on frame, which was a beautiful curling ball from outside the 18 into the upper 90. Lynn has shown glimpses of his ability when he has been called upon this year and may be in line for more playing time depending on how the summer transfer window shakes out. Based upon the effort of the training session today, he will be ready when his number is called.


All in all, even under the hot Florida summer sun, it was a really nice event that the club put on for season ticket members of all ages, and I hope to see Orlando City host more of these events in the future. The Lions are on a bye week and will look to get back to their winning ways on June 15 at home against LAFC. Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Switching to a 3-4-3 Could Help Orlando City

Orlando City needs to try something different to unlock the offense, and a formational tweak could be the answer.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City has now used a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 formation in its last six matches. The switch has been necessitated by a combination of injuries and suspensions to the team’s fullbacks and center backs, and I spent some time examining the first two games using the 3-5-2 several weeks ago. In that piece, I noted that the Lions looked better defensively when operating with three at the back, and had also done a decent job of creating chances, albeit in a small sample size. Now that we’ve got more minutes to examine, a picture is beginning to form of a team that still looks fairly solid defensively, but is struggling mightily at the other end of the pitch.

In the six games in which the team used a 3-5-2, Orlando recorded Expected Goals of 1.25, 0.72, 1.99, 1.29, 0.82, and 0.42, for an average of 1.08. That’s not great, as only three teams in the league have lower numbers: the New England Revolution (1.02), FC Dallas (0.99), and Sporting Kansas City (0.99). For those of you keeping track at home, the Revs are bottom of the East, SKC is bottom of the West, and FC Dallas is only two spots above Sporting. While the sample size isn’t as big as those other teams, the numbers are suggesting that this isn’t sustainable.

Expected Goals aren’t the holy grail of soccer statistics, but they generally provide a good metric of how well a team is attacking, but the eye test is perfectly useful in telling us that Orlando City mostly hasn’t been an attacking force across its last six matches.

Three at the back has worked pretty well from a defensive standpoint, as the Lions’ opponents have had xG numbers of 3.85 (2 actual goals), 0.61 (no goals), 0.62 (no goals), 2.19 (2 goals), 1.00 (1 goal), and 0.79 (1 goal), for an average of 1.51.

That number could certainly be better, as it would tie for seventh-highest in the league, although it’s worth mentioning that the three penalty kicks given up against the Philadelphia Union and Columbus Crew do unfairly skew that total, as each one is worth 0.79 xG. If we remove those and focus on open play, the number drops to 1.12, which would actually be the lowest in the league. To be clear, I’m not suggesting the Lions are actually that good defensively, but I do think it’s fair to say that they’ve mostly done well when defending during open play over the last six matches.

Whatever solution we come up with needs to involve a retention of the defensive improvements that the team has shown over the last six matches, while also helping the Lions become more potent offensively. With that being the case, I’m not opposed to keeping a three-man back line, but making a slight tweak to a 3-4-3 formation in order to unlock the team’s offensive potential. With all players healthy and suspension-free, we could see Pedro Gallese in goal, Robin Jansson, Wilder Cartagena, and David Brekalo on the back line, a midfield of Rafael Santos, Cesar Araujo, Nico Lodeiro, and Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, and a front three of Luis Muriel, Duncan McGuire, and Facundo Torres.

One of the biggest drawbacks of a 3-5-2, and something I noted in Player Grades pieces for the games against Philadelphia, Inter Miami, and the Chicago Fire, is that it burdens Facundo Torres with far too many defensive responsibilities. While availability issues meant there wasn’t much choice other than to play him as a wingback, if the team has a clean bill of health, you need the guy who’s been your best offensive player for the last two seasons to be put in the best possible position to succeed. Simply put, that does not involve him consistently defending at or below his own 18-yard box. A 3-4-3 shifts that defensive responsibility to Thorhallson/Santos, while allowing Torres to operate higher up the pitch, where he does his best work.

It also gets Muriel and McGuire on the field at the same time, as they’ve looked capable of forming a nice partnership when they’ve been healthy, rested, and sharing the field. They can play off each other and shift which one is playing through the middle to give the opposing team some different looks throughout the game.

As for the midfield, I have Nico starting, given the type of creative force he’s capable of being, and he’s also looked to have some good budding chemistry with Muriel. With that being the case, he can be swapped for Ivan Angulo or Felipe if Oscar Pareja wants to line his team up more defensively, and the Colombian speedster can also rotate in at winger or wingback as needed.

I’ve kept Cartagena in the middle center back spot for a couple reasons. For one, I don’t think a central midfield pairing of Wilder and Cesar has enough creative punch in a 3-4-3, and Nico should solve that problem. In addition, Cartagena’s shown well enough as the middle center back to keep running him out there, and that also means that you aren’t starting all three experienced, traditional center backs every game and thereby putting all your eggs in one basket.

For substitutions and rotations, Jack Lynn, Ramiro Enrique, and Martin Ojeda can come in at various positions across the front line, Angulo at midfield, winger, or wingback as previously mentioned, Felipe at midfielder, Kyle Smith at wingback or center back, and Rodrigo Schlegel at center back.


In theory, a 3-4-3 formation maintains the defensive stability OCSC has shown with a three-man defense, while putting enough dangerous offensive players on the field in their best positions to help juice things at the other end of the pitch. Whether or not it would actually work out that way is anyone’s guess, but what the Lions have been doing lately hasn’t worked out particularly well, so I think it’s worth a shot.

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Opinion

Predicting Orlando City’s June Results

Take a peek into the crystal ball as we predict this month’s fixtures.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After earning eight points in the month of May across six matches with a 2-2-2 record, Orlando City has a large mountain still to climb in the quest to re-enter the playoff picture. With four of the five teams that the Lions are set to face in June currently ahead of them in the standings, there is no rest for the weary. Last month I predicted that the Lions would go 3-1-2, maybe a bit overzealous on my part but if the midweek fixture with Chicago would have resulted in all 3 points, then I would have been pretty happy with my psychic powers. Let’s see how well I can do for the month of June.

Saturday, June 1 β€” at the New York Red Bulls

A trip to face the Red Bulls on short rest and without at least the services of Captain Robin Jansson, who will miss the match due to yellow card accumulation, sounds on paper like a recipe for disaster. The good news for Orlando is that the game is played on the field and not on a notepad. The New York Red Bulls have been a surprising storyline to follow this season so far, with the resurgence of Lewis Morgan and their unbeaten record at home to start the season. In the first meeting, Orlando City needed late-match heroics to salvage a draw at home, and with an offense that is as currently anemic as Orlando’s, this will be the match where they score early, take the lead, and then hold on for dear life. Something about this squad currently just screams it will win the match it certainly has no business winning.

Prediction: Orlando City 3-2 NYRB.


Saturday, June 15 β€” vs. LAFC

LAFC is certainly counting down the days until later in the summer when Olivier Giroud joins from AC Milan. Initially struggling out of the gates this season, LAFC has turned its season around in a big way. LAFC is currently riding a six-game winning streak across all competitions, with its last defeat coming back on May 4 against the San Jose Earthquakes. During those six victories, LAFC has scored multiple goals in all but one match, and so I assume that goals will come fast and furious in this East vs. West matchup. Despite Orlando’s struggles, I like this match to be close until the very end, when Orlando will be caught chasing the match and give up an extra goal to the visitors from the City of Angels. A tough one to swallow for sure as Orlando City’s home woes will continue.

Prediction: Orlando City 1-3 LAFC.


Wednesday, June 19 β€” at Charlotte FC

Orlando will head north to take on Charlotte FC for a midweek clash during the middle of yet another spell of three matches in eight days. Charlotte, much like the Red Bulls, has been somewhat of a surprise player in the Eastern Conference so far this season. Before being bested by the Red Bulls on May 29, the club had kept five clean sheets in a row, earning 11 points throughout the month of May. My favorite thing about this match is the recent news that Enzo Copetti, ever the thorn in the side of Orlando City, has now departed the Queen City. It will be at least one less weapon that Orlando will have to deal with. Despite the team’s recent form, I am not overly sold on Charlotte’s ability to stay above the playoff line, and I like Orlando City to flip the script and be the team to walk away from this match with a clean sheet.

Prediction: Orlando City 1-0 Charlotte FC.


Saturday, June 22 β€” vs. the Chicago Fire

Call it a rematch, revenge game…I truly don’t care as long as Orlando City avenges the disappointing draw that happened a few days ago in the Windy City. There are certainly multiple reasons as to why both teams find themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, but if I had to pick one to actually figure it out heading into the meat and potatoes of the season, it would still be the Lions. Orlando has created plenty of chances at home, and while finishing those chances is another issue entirely, I like City to build some momentum towards the end of the month.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-0 Chicago Fire.


Friday, June 28 β€” at New York City FC

Orlando will ride that momentum directly into a baseball stadium. One of the most embarrassing fields in MLS is still allowed to be called a soccer pitch in the outfield of Yankee Stadium. Historically, teams struggle with the dimensions and space that this specific field presents, and Orlando is no stranger to those struggles, as the Lions have lost the last three matches played in the Bronx by a combined score of 9-1. History alone gives me very little hope that this current iteration of Orlando City will be the squad to finally buck the trend, and I suspect that Orlando will once again leave the outfield without much to show for its efforts.

Prediction: Orlando City 0-2 NYCFC.


The month of May went fine for Orlando. It could have been a little better. It could have been a little worse. I predict that that is exactly the way that June will go as well. As I mentioned before, there are no “easy” matches on the slate this month, and everyone except for Chicago is currently sitting on a better record than OCSC at this point in the season. If what I have predicted comes to fruition, then Orlando will earn nine points out of a possible 15 and will still be sitting just shy of the playoff line.

Check back at the end of the month to see just how close I came to predicating the correct results. Vamos Orlando!

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