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International Duty Provides Facundo Torres an Opportunity for Reset

Orlando City needs its Uruguayan star to find his best form.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City closes out the month of March against Eastern Conference foes the New York Red Bulls tonight in Central Florida. For one of the first times this season, the Lions will look to take the pitch with a seemingly healthy and rested lineup. Orlando demonstrated what it was capable of last time out with a full week of training under its belt with a complete 2-0 victory against Austin FC.

The victory could be considered even more impressive due to the fact that it was achieved without six regular starters, five of whom were away representing their home nations and Cesar Araujo, who missed the match due to injury. Araujo’s availability at this time still is unknown but it is reasonable to expect that the remaining players who were away over the last week and a half will return to their usual slots in the starting 11.

March results came in like a lamb and are hopefully going to finish like a lion in terms of victories for Orlando City. The same can be said for Designated Player Facundo Torres. Now in his third season with Orlando, I feel like right about this time every year I have written an article about the team needing more from Torres. And then, every year Torres has responded in a big way throughout the late spring and early summer.

Zero goals and zero assists over three MLS matches is certainly not the start that Torres expected to begin the year, nor is it the type of start that Orlando could afford to bury behind other players’ efforts as the entire offensive unit has struggled to find its footing out of the gate. On the season thus far, Torres is completing 80.5% of his passes and has registered only a lone shot attempt on target on two total scoring attempts. He did manage three goals and an assist in Concacaf Champions Cup play, so the offense is there, it just hasn’t found its way into MLS matches yet.

For Orlando to climb its way back up the table, Torres has to reach the gear that everyone knows he is capable of now. Not the middle of June, or early July, but right now.

Torres is no stranger to slow starts in MLS play, but even by his standards 2024 has been sluggish so far. In 2022, his first year in the league, Torres managed one assist and five shot attempts (none on target) through his first three MLS matches. A year ago, El Cuervo scored one goal on five shots, putting just the one on target. So he’s a few shots and a goal contribution behind his usual pace, despite contributing offensively in Concacaf play.

After a short stint with the Uruguay Men’s National Team, Torres’ time to be the catalyst that Orlando City needs has arrived. The good news for Facu and Orlando City fans is that the Red Bulls are a squad against which Torres has historically preformed very strongly. The attacking winger scored three goals against the Red Bulls in 2023 alone.

I believe that Torres benefited from a short break away from the squad and will start to turn the corner soon. I will excitedly and expectantly be on the lookout for Torres to regain his form tonight and hopefully that will help elevate all of his teammates.


Is there anyone else who you think benefited from the early season international period? Let us know in the comments below and as always, vamos Orlando!

Opinion

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.

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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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Opinion

Resetting Expectations for Orlando City in 2024

What expectations are reasonable for Orlando City fans for the remainder of the 2024 MLS season?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

After another agonizing loss at home a week ago to FC Cincinnati, Orlando City finds itself near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings almost a third of the way through the regular season. For an organization that entered the 2024 Major League Soccer season with lofty expectations, the beginning of the season has fallen significantly short of preseason projections.

For the most part, the facts that supported those preseason projections still mainly hold true. Orlando brought back its core offensive and defensive pieces, made some specific and pointed acquisitions in an attempt to upgrade, and was still managed by a coach who had enjoyed unparalleled success at the helm for the club.

So with all those things holding true, the head scratching question at this point in the season is what has gone wrong? During the first five to six weeks of the season, Orlando had to balance the regular season and Concacaf Champions Cup. Those days are now long past and that excuse for poor on-field performances no longer holds water.

In years past, Orlando has demonstrated its ability to grow into the season and last year’s record-setting team didn’t find its form until after the Leagues Cup competition. Nonetheless, Orlando City fans have not seen a team stumble out of the gate this badly in recent years. It’s time to reset the expectations for the 2024 MLS season and look to see what the team would have to do to turn the season on its head.

In 2023, Orlando City put up a club-record 63 points by season’s end, but if we break down the numbers of the early season, we can see that it might not be time to press the panic button just yet. Through the first 10 matches of 2023, Orlando put up 14 points on a 4-4-2 record with a goal differential of zero. Orlando City currently sits on nine points through its first 10 matches with a 2-5-3 record and a -7 goal differential. On the surface, those numbers seem to be a stark contrast to one another, but when you take into account a five-goal drubbing at Inter Miami, the goal differential that the team is supporting this year is mainly dragged down by one forgettable outing.

Add in a short-handed loss in Atlanta earlier in March, when the team was banged up and missing Wilder Cartagena due to suspension, as well as a heartbreaking last-ditch collapse against Toronto FC two weeks ago, and the picture starts to look less bleak than just what the numbers would suggest. Still, good teams find ways to not drop points at home and to manage matches where there are pieces of the machine missing.

With 24 matches still on the schedule, there is time to climb the table, but with every dropped point or bad loss the clock ticks closer to midnight and the margin for error becomes smaller.

In 2023, Charlotte FC snuck into the playoff wild card position with 43 points on the season, and only 10 wins. It doesn’t seem wildly out of the imagination that Orlando could reach that level this year. Extrapolating the data going back to 2021, with the current MLS playoff qualifications, a team would need an average of 44 points to make the postseason. That equates to Orlando needing 35 points over its final 24 matches — or 1.45 points per match — to reach the wild card round.

A somewhat more lofty goal would be qualifying for the playoffs without the wild card. Again, going back to average the seventh-place spot in the East over the last three years, Orlando would need to reach 48 points this season to avoid a play-in game. That equates to 39 points over the final 24 matches, or 1.62 points per match. In 2023, Orlando managed 49 points over its final 24 matches of the year — that’s 2.04 points per match.

I am not projecting Orlando to go on that same massive (MLS best) type of run over the summer and fall portions of the season, but I do believe that when it comes to expectations on the season there is still hope to be had for Orlando qualifying for the playoffs. The more likely scenario would be for Orlando to end up in the wild card matchup, but with a few extra matches breaking Orlando’s way, it is not a stretch yet to consider the club could climb slightly higher. There is also still the Leagues Cup on the horizon, and regardless of one’s opinion on the competition, a deep, competitive run in that competition could give meaning to the Lions’ 10th anniversary season.


We can likely put to bed the hopes of competing for the Shield or the top spot in the East at this point in the season, given the number of teams above the Lions and the number of matches remaining. However, it is still far too early to give up on the season as a whole. Orlando was five minutes away from going undefeated in the month of April, and there are still meaningful and winnable games on the calendar ahead. My recalibrated expectation of the season is for Orlando to earn a wild card spot, and anything above that would be gravy as far as I am concerned.

What reset expectations do you have for the year? Let us know in the comments below and as always, Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Predicting Orlando City’s May 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 four points in the month of April across three matches with a 1-1-1 record, Orlando City looks to calm the storm and gain meaningful results against several squads above them on the table and a few of the Eastern Conference’s best. The Lions will play six matches in the month of May, and before action kicks off later tonight at home against FC Cincinnati, I wanted to put my psychic abilities to the test to try to predict the teams results over a very full month.

Saturday, May 4 — vs. FC Cincinnati

The most important part of a bad loss is not allowing it to beat you twice and that is exactly what the Lions will look to avoid as they attempt to shake off the gut-wrenching, last-minute loss to Toronto FC from the end of April when they host FC Cincinnati. Last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners are riding a two-game winning streak into the match after dispatching the Colorado Rapids 2-1 in their most recent outing. Cincinnati is a different squad than the one that won the shield a year ago, with USMNT striker Brandon Vazquez playing in Mexico and acquisitions like Miles Robinson and DeAndre Yedlin joining the squad this year. Luckily, Orlando’s offense has awakened and in the month of April the Lions scored multiple goals in two out of their three matches. Cincinnati will be without the services of Aaron Boupendza due to a broken jaw and I like this match to be high scoring but level.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-2 FC Cincinnati.


Saturday, May 11 — at Philadelphia Union

The Union have found themselves in a bit of a post-Concacaf Champions Cup haze, much like Orlando has, with only four points separating the squads through nine matches. Subaru Park, a previously impossible site to win at for road teams, was finally cracked by Orlando City last year, and the Union have already lost in front of their home crowd once this year, thanks to Real Salt Lake. The first road test of the month for the Lions will test the team’s ability to play in a hostile environment and a win could go a long way towards the climb up the table. Orlando will still have to deal with Andre Blake, Jack Elliot, and Daniel Gazdag, but this version of the Union feels slightly less menacing than in years past.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-1 Philadelphia Union.


Wednesday, May 15 — vs. Inter Miami

Lionel Messi and friends on a short week after an away match…it feels like the schedulers are just doing this on purpose at this point, doesn’t it? Orlando will look to avenge its worst outing of the year to date, a 5-0 drubbing that happened in South Florida back on March 2. The key to this match will be managing emotions, as the Lions have shown in the past that they have the right players in place to frustrate Messi, but they also can get caught up in the moment. This one could be a coin flip, as both sides could potentially see heavy rotation and Miami continues to deal with several injuries to its supporting cast. Nonetheless, I think Orlando flips the script in this one and the match against the boys in pink becomes a turning point for the entire season.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-0 Inter Miami.


Saturday, May 18 — at San Jose Earthquakes

San Jose has had an abysmal start to their year and is currently tied with the New England Revolution for Wooden Spoon darlings, sitting on four points. Still, this will be Orlando’s third match in eight days, a task the team has not had to deal with since balancing both Concacaf and the MLS regular season in March. This feels like the trap game on the schedule to me, coming off of a tough midweek match against intrastate rivals and with the high-scoring juggernauts known as the Columbus Crew coming up the week after. I expect Oscar Pareja to rotate the squad for this one to try to save some miles on the legs, and that will ultimately be the team’s undoing as it has to salvage a draw late against the Quakes.

Prediction: Orlando City 1-1 San Jose Earthquakes.


Saturday, May 25 — vs. Columbus Crew

The Columbus Crew will face off against the Lions in their first matchup of the season late in the month. The reigning MLS Cup holders have been on a heater in both MLS regular-season play and in the Concacaf Champions Cup, and they are now set to face CF Pachuca on June 1 in the final match of the tournament. The timing of that match one week after this could create some interesting storylines, as the Crew — also have a midweek fixture on May 29 — look to stay fresh. As an Orlando fan, I wouldn’t hold my breath, hoping for some obscure names in the starting 11. The Crew are capable of hurting teams in a myriad of ways, and even with a week’s rest and training back in Orlando, I think the squad that knocked OCSC out of the 2023 MLS playoffs will again find a road victory as the Crew look to tune up for their championship final.

Prediction: Orlando City 0-2 Columbus Crew.


Wednesday, May 29 — vs. Chicago Fire FC

The whirlwind month ends in the Windy City, as Orlando travels to Chicago for a midweek fixture to close out the month. Chicago has had an up-and-down start to the season, much like Orlando has, and the Fire currently sit just one point ahead of the Lions on the table. Orlando took both meetings in 2023 by 3-1 final scores. I think after five other matches in the month, chemistry issues should be a thing of the past, and while road points always come as a premium in MLS, I think Orlando will keep its streak against the Fire alive by jumping on top early and then coasting to a win.

Prediction: Orlando City 3-0 Chicago Fire FC.


If things go as I have now spoken them into existence, Orlando will earn 11 points in the month of May. The month will also finish with Orlando closer to the playoff line but still on the outside looking in. My predictions are based on historical results that the squad has put in against these teams, schedule congestion of both the Lions and their opponents, and finally, the true belief that this team has the tools necessary to earn victories at the end of the day. 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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