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Orlando City vs. Philadelphia Union: Final Score 3-2 as Lions Win Behind Luis Muriel Brace

Orlando gets two goals from Luis Muriel, another from Duncan McGuire, and three assists from Nico Lodeiro to win in Philly.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Luis Muriel scored his first two MLS goals and Nico Lodeiro assisted on all three Orlando City strikes as the Lions beat the Philadelphia Union 3-2 at Subaru Park in Chester, PA. For Orlando City (3-5-3, 12 points), which also got a goal from Duncan McGuire, it snapped a two-game losing streak and a three-match winless skid, but the Lions had to suffer quite a bit for their points, enduring two penalties, a scary-looking injury to Robin Jansson, an overturned Philadelphia red card, and about 19 minutes of stoppage time in order to beat the Union (3-3-5, 14 points).

Mikael Uhre and Daniel Gazdag (penalty) scored for Philadelphia, but Orlando held on through a nervy finish to claim the points.

“First (I want to) congratulate the players for such an effort today. The bravery that they had and the cooperation that they showed to each other during the game was exceptional,” Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja said after the game. “Its a very difficult place to come and win, but we’re proud. We really played a very, very good first half, where we created many chances. It’s great for us as well Luis has started scoring. So, many things happened and we’ll keep going. The journey is long.”

Faced with not having starting fullback Rafael Santos and not wanting to rush Dagur Dan Thorhallsson (who was on the bench) back into the fray, Pareja opted to not use anyone who regularly plays fullback in his starting lineup. Michael Halliday wasn’t in the team after picking up a knock late in the week in training.

Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese lined up behind a back line of Jansson, Wilder Cartagena, and David Brekalo. Ivan Angulo and Facundo Torres slotted in at wingbacks on the outside of a midfield that also included Cesar Araujo, Martin Ojeda, and Lodeiro, with Muriel and McGuire up top in a 3-5-2.

“We came here today with a different proposal,” Pareja said of his lineup change. “We extended our line in the back, but not with fullbacks, but with wingers. And I think we put everything that we had on the pitch trying to get the win from the start.”

The Lions started brightly, with a lot of early possession in the attacking third, but the only thing to come from it was Torres hitting the outside of the left post from a tight angle in the fifth minute.

The Union started to get more settled and created a shot on their first real attacking buildup, but Cartagena blocked Jack McGlynn’s effort out for a corner. The Lions dealt with the initial set piece and tried to break on the counterattack, however, Orlando never could gain control of the ball and Philadelphia recycled it into the top of the area before City could regain its shape. Uhre ended up with the ball in the box and slotted home inside the left post to make it 1-0 in the 12th minute.

McGuire was picked out in the box by a great entry ball by Muriel moments later, but the second-year striker was quickly closed down by three defenders. Trying to work his way higher in the box, McGuire went down under contact, but no foul was given and there was no pause for a review on the next stoppage.

Philadelphia should have had a second in the 15th minute, but Gallese robbed Gazdag, who had taken a great layoff from Uhre, who was holding off Cartagena, taking advantage of the midfielder-turned-center back. Gallese did well to keep the deficit at one.

Muriel and Ojeda sent shots over the bar in the 16th and 17th minutes, respectively, as the Lions continued looking dangerous in the attack. That finally paid off in the 21st minute. After playing a corner kick short, the ball was knocked out of the box and recycled to Lodeiro on the left. The midfield maestro got to the end line and sent a great cross into the box. McGuire made a great run to get across his defender and nodded it down and in to make it 1-1 with his fifth league goal of the season.

Muriel conceded a set piece near the touchline in the 22nd minute, giving Philadelphia a chance to get the goal right back, but the Lions cleared the danger and Gallese caught the recycled entry ball to end the threat.

The Union had a great chance in the 29th minute off a short corner. Jose Martinez took the pass and fizzed a laser cross to Bedoya at the top of the six. The veteran midfielder tried to steer it on frame but it had so much pace on it that it deflected out for an Orlando throw.

Philadelphia kept coming. McGlynn sent either a cross or a shot onto the roof of the net in the 33rd minute, and Quinn Sullivan sent a shot just high and just wide right in the 35th. Uhre had a go from a tight angle on the right a minute later but Gallese was well positioned and made the easy save.

The Lions thought they had a penalty in the 40th minute when an entry ball went off Martinez near the edge of his shirt sleeve. Timothy Ford did not call a penalty and on the next stoppage the play was reviewed, but it was close and no obvious error was detected.

No matter. Orlando scored seconds after the review. A bad pass by Martinez was picked off by Angulo, who sent it to Lodeiro. The Uruguayan flicked it to Muriel, who cut inside on his left and sent a rocket shot into the upper left corner for his first MLS goal. The Lions led 2-1 in the 42nd minute.

“It was a situation where we recovered the ball high up the field and really quickly,” Muriel said through a club interpreter. “When I saw Nico making his run, I made sure to just put myself in a good position, and I started to cut inside and just saw an opportunity to hit it. Thankfully, it was a really good strike.”

Again the Union nearly pulled the goal right back as Bedoya nodded a header right at Gallese in the 44th minute, however, the Lions nearly got right back in on goal through McGuire, who was barely beaten to a loose ball in the box by goalkeeper Oliver Semmle to deny a golden chance.

Lodeiro had the last good look for either side in the second minute of first-half stoppage, sending a shot toward goal that deflected just wide by the defense. The halftime whistle came moments later and Orlando held onto a one-goal lead at the break.

Orlando City attempted more shots (9-7) and corners (5-3) in the first half, while Philadelphia finished the opening period with more possession (59.8%-40.2%), shots on target (4-3), and passing accuracy (79.4%-76.9%).

Muriel doubled the lead just after the restart. Lodeiro ended up with the ball at midfield and threaded a through ball up the middle. Muriel timed his run perfectly, put the ball on his right foot, and calmly slipped it past Semmle to make it 3-1 just 20 seconds after the start of the second half. The play underwent a review for offside but was confirmed.

“I was right there in line with the defenders and Nico was able to find me in a great way,” Muriel said. “And so once he put me in on goal, it was easy for me to finish. So, those are two goals that really fill me with confidence today.”

“A very important moment for Luis to come through this way with the team,” Pareja said. “Scoring goals is what he came for and today was a night that he will remember, not just because we won it but he scored those two goals that are very necessary for his confidence, and the whole team as well.”

Philadelphia’s first chance of the half came in the 48th minute, but Jansson was able to block Gazdag’s effort from near the top of the box.

Moments later, at the other end, a good cross from Lodeiro on the left would have fallen for Angulo at the back post if Kai Wagner hadn’t arrived in time to nod it behind for a corner. Brekalo got his head to the ensuing corner cross, but his body was turned sideways from jockeying for position with the defense and he couldn’t steer it on frame.

Sullivan scored in the 54th minute but the flag came up immediately. The Philadelphia attacker and Brekalo were nearly even, but there wasn’t enough evidence for the video assistant referee to overturn the call on the field, and the Lions were spared some blushes from losing an aerial ball in their box that Gazdag knocked down.

McGuire got in behind in the 57th minute and Semmle was caught out of his net. The Orlando striker chipped the ball but it went wide of the left post and the flag came up anyway.

Martinez sent a ball into the Orlando box in the 59th minute but it was close enough to Gallese for him to catch it to end the threat. At this point in the game, the Union were throwing numbers forward and the Lions’ defensive block was getting pushed lower. Another dangerous ball into the box at the hour mark bounced out for a corner off Jansson on a cross in that Orlando didn’t deal with properly.

Pareja made his first substitution before that corner could be taken, sending Dagur Dan Thorhallsson, who cleared concussion protocol, onto the pitch for Ojeda, who had a quiet night and was a bit untidy with the ball. Thorhallsson took the right wingback slot, pushing Angulo to the left side and Torres up the pitch into a more advanced position.

On the ensuing corner, Jansson went down as the ball was cleared out and stayed down. He ultimately had to be stretchered off the field and was replaced by Kyle Smith. To make matters worse for Orlando City, the deflected ball changed directions and caught Lodeiro’s hand as he was pulling it in toward his body. Although the ball fell for a half chance for the Union, Ford went to the monitor and deemed it a penalty. Gazdag sent Gallese to his right and scored right down the middle to make it 3-2 in the 66th minute.

It was a tough break for Orlando, as Jansson had been strong up to that point in the match, while Philadelphia was buoyed by pulling within a goal with plenty of time left in the game.

Much of the remainder of the game was spent in Orlando’s half, with the Union trying to play balls in over the top from the wings or work their way into the box from the channels. Lodeiro did well to block a Bedoya cross attempt out for a corner in the 70th minute, and Jakob Glesnes sent his header on the ensuing set piece wide a minute later.

Moments after that, Bedoya passed up a shot to head a cross back to the left post, where Uhre was waiting. The play nearly came off for the Union but Gallese got over and the ball ended up hitting off the woodwork and Uhre and landing on the roof of the net.

The game nearly took a dramatic change in the 74th minute when McGuire was sent in behind and went down due to contact with Damion Lowe. Ford produced a red card immediately for denial of a goal-scoring opportunity. However, he then went to the monitor and determined there was no foul because Lowe got a touch on the ball.

Uhre could have tied it in the 78th minute. A direct ball found Uhre over the top and Gallese could probably have gotten to it first but he got caught flatfooted well out of his goal. However, the Peruvian was able to block Uhre’s shot attempt to preserve the lead.

Orlando kept looking to put the game away on the counterattack but simply couldn’t find the final ball. Angulo sped down the left side in the 78th minute but his cross was knocked away by Semmle and the defense cleared. Moments later, Brekalo led the transition break himself, but when the ball got to the Union box, a wayward pass allowed the defense to intercept it and killed the threat.

Glesnes tried his luck from distance in the 80th minute, but his shot was always going wide of the left post.

Orlando’s next counter opportunity in the 84th minute ended when a cross into the box to Lodeiro bounced high and the Uruguayan could only get under his half-volley shot, sending it high.

Ford handed the Union a lifeline in the 86th minute, calling a soft penalty on Angulo. The speedy winger-turned-wingback was on Nathan Harriel, who went down easily, and Ford bought it. After going to the monitor twice before, this time he didn’t, and the call stood.

Gazdag stepped up to take another spot kick, and this time he tried to go to his left. Gallese read the play and the Union’s star man left his shot too close to the middle. Gallese parried it away with a huge save, but it fell back to Gazdag, who sent his rebound attempt over the bar, ending the threat.

It was the first time in MLS play that Gazdag has failed to score on a penalty kick attempt.

McGuire was booked as the game reached the 90th minute and the fourth official put 15 minutes on the board. There were two video reviews and the Jansson injury, but 15 still seemed excessive. That ended up growing to nearly 19 minutes in the end.

Philadelphia came close in the 91st minute, but Felipe, who had come on for Muriel late, did well to get a toe on a cross that almost certainly would have been tucked home in front. A minute later, Brekalo did just enough to bother Lowe’s header attempt, which sailed off target. Brekalo followed that by blocking a Wagner cross in the 93rd minute. Sullivan sliced a shot well wide to the right a minute later.

The Lions managed to kill a few minutes until Lowe jumped up into the play in the 98th minute but sent his long-range shot fizzing over the bar.

The final chance came deep in the 18th minute of stoppage on a Union corner. The ball pinged dangerously around the box off multiple players before flying just over the crossbar. Ford called the match complete at that point, and the Lions could finally breathe easier.

Philadelphia ended up owning the stat sheet, finishing with the advantage in possession (61.5%-38.5%), shots (31-13), shots on target (7-4), corners (7-6), and passing accuracy (80.4%-73.5%).

“We have been getting through hard times and the (team’s) fate is still intact,” Pareja said. “So, we worked very hard today and (the win) was very deserved.”

“It was a great game. I think it was something that we were wishing for coming in after two tough games that we lost, but I think today we deserved this win,” Muriel said. “And with all the work that this group has been putting together, just just very happy for that.”

While Pareja and company wait to see the extent of Jansson’s injury, the encouraging thing for the Lions is that Muriel finally looked every bit the part of the Designated Player from Serie A that he was billed to be. Aside from his two goals, his passing unlocked the defense multiple times. Additionally, Lodeiro had one of his best matches since joining Orlando City, and showed that he still has the quality to create for his teammates.

With the win, Orlando City improved to 6-7-6 in the all-time MLS series against the Union (7-8-6 in all competitions) and is now 4-5-1 in league matches at Subaru Park (4-6-1 in all competitions).


Orlando City has a quick turnaround, returning home to face Inter Miami in the second leg of the 2024 Tropic Thunder rivalry Wednesday night.

Orlando City

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

The Lions host Western Conference power LAFC with some key players out on international duty.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Welcome to your match thread for a Saturday night matchup between Orlando City (4-7-5, 17 points) and Los Angeles FC (9-4-3, 30 points) at Inter&Co Stadium (7:30 p.m. MLS Season Pass on Apple TV+). This is the only scheduled meeting between the two cross-conference opponents this season.

Here’s what you need to know:

History

Orlando City has yet to taste victory against LAFC in league play (0-2-1), is 0-1-1 at home in the series, and is 0-2-2 in all competitions against the Black & Gold. What many people will remember as a win was actually a 1-1 draw and took place in the knockout stages of the MLS is Back Tournament in 2020 with Orlando City advancing on penalties.

These teams last met on April 2, 2022 in Orlando. The Lions fell behind twice in the first half on goals by Brian Rodriguez and Jesus David Murillo but fought back to pull level both times on strikes by Alexandre Pato and Joao Moutinho. However, Ilie Sanchez and Kwadwo Opoku struck in the second half for the visitors as LAFC won 4-2.

The Lions’ most memorable outing against LAFC came in the MLS is Back Tournament on July 31, 2020. Moutinho’s late goal canceled out one from Bradley Wright-Phillips and sent that match to penalties. The Lions advanced after winning the penalty shootout, 5-4. Pedro Gallese was huge in that match and all five Orlando shooters scored their penalties, while only Jordan Harvey missed for LAFC, hitting the crossbar.

The Lions and LAFC drew 2-2 at Exploria Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. Adrien Perez put the visitors on the board in the 12th minute, but Nani struck back just a minute later off a quick play on the ensuing kickoff. Benji Michel put the Lions ahead in the 20th minute and — just when it appeared Orlando might pull off the upset — Diego Rossi scored in the 78th to tie things up.

LAFC won the initial meeting of the series in 2018 at Banc of California Stadium, running away 4-1 after the Lions had an apparent tying goal overturned for offside on a play that didn’t seem all that clear or obvious of an error to me. But admittedly I’m limited to only the replays they showed on my television set. Sacha Kljestan scored for Orlando to cut a 2-0 lead in half. That lead was built on goals by Adama Diomande and Latif Blessing. Orlando scored a second that was overturned and Diomande and Rossi finished the Lions off. That initial meeting of the two teams was also the first game the Lions played under James O’Connor.

Overview

Orlando City last played two weeks ago on June 1, when the Lions fell 1-0 to the New York Red Bulls on the road. John Tolkin’s free kick was the difference. Despite the solid defensive outing by Orlando, the Lions produced nothing offensively and have struggled to create (and finish) chances since a 3-2 win at Philadelphia on May 11. Orlando City is winless in three games (0-2-1), has scored just twice in its last five games, and has been shut out three times in that span. If you’re looking for a silver lining, the Lions have conceded only four goals in the last five matches, and only two of those have come from open play. The other two were Tolkin’s free kick and a penalty by Diego Rossi.

The Lions have been abysmal at home in 2024, compiling a record of just 1-4-3 at Inter&Co Stadium. Things won’t be any easier for Orlando tonight against a team in the thick of the Supporters’ Shield race and having to play without goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, midfielder-turned-center back Wilder Cartagena, and center back David Brekalo, who are all away on international duty.

LAFC is flying right now. The Black & Gold have won seven straight in all competitions, have earned victories in five consecutive regular-season matches, and have not conceded a goal in their last six competitive games. While the California side is just 2-4-1 away from home in 2024, it has won its last two road matches without allowing a goal (at Atlanta and St. Louis City).

Tonight’s visitors are scary offensively. Denis Bouanga’s 10 goals and five assists each are club bests, but Mateusz Bogusz has added six goals and three assists. Cristian Olivera and Timothy Tillman have each chipped in four goals, while Eduard Atuesta has added a pair of goals and four assists. Bouanga may be the ringleader, but LAFC can spread the wealth offensively.

The Lions will need to be just as focused on defensive responsibilities (or more so) as they were two weeks ago in New Jersey.

“We have these days where the boys needed to have a break. At the end, I think it’s something that’s very healthy for them. After that, we reunited the group and started thinking of what’s coming,” Head Coach Oscar Pareja said ahead of the match. “The second half of the season we have to push and have urgency to attempt, but we’re good, training and thinking about LAFC now.”

In addition to Gallese, Cartagena, and Brekalo, Orlando City will be without backup defenders Michael Halliday (knee) and Tahir Reid-Brown (thigh). LAFC lists Lorenzo Dellavalle (knee), David Martínez (back) as out on its preliminary availability report.

Match Content


Projected Lineups

Orlando City (4-2-3-1)

Goalkeeper: Mason Stajduhar.

Defenders: Rafael Santos, Robin Jansson, Rodrigo Schlegel, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson.

Defensive Midfielders: Cesar Araujo, Felipe.

Attacking Midfielders: Ivan Angulo, Nico Lodeiro, Facundo Torres.

Forwards: Duncan McGuire.

Los Angeles FC (4-3-3)

Goalkeeper: Hugo Lloris.

Defenders: Omar Campos, Maxime Chanot, Aaron Long, Sergi Palencia.

Midfielders: Eduard Atuesta, Ilie Sanchez, Timothy Tillman.

Forwards: Denis Bouanga, Mateusz Bogusz, Cristian Olivera.

Referees:

REF: Rubiel Vazquez.
AR1: Nick Uranga.
AR2: Adam Wienckowski.
4TH: Calin Radosav.
VAR: Younes Marrakchi.
AVAR: Claudiu Badea.


How to Watch

Match Time: 7:30 p.m. ET.

Venue: Inter&Co Stadium — Orlando.

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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Intelligence Report: Orlando City vs. LAFC

Get some insider information on LAFC courtesy of someone who knows the team best.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

We find ourselves at the end of another week, which means that another Orlando City match is almost upon us. Following a two-week break, the Lions will return to action with a home contest against LAFC.

A date with LAFC means I got some insider info on the opposition from Trebor Tracy, the managing editor of Angels on Parade. They’re another former SBNation blog that has gone independent, and they continue to do excellent work covering LAFC, Angel City FC, and Orange County SC, so make sure you check them out!

Catch me up on some of LAFC’s off-season transfer business. Who are some names that were brought in, and who went out the door?

Trebor Tracy:  LAFC came into this season as close to a rebuild project as you can be for a team many expect to compete for championships and trophies each year. In the off-season the team saw 15 departures from the 2023 squad, and that’s not counting loans out. Among the bigger names leaving Los Angeles were both goalkeepers that helped lift LAFC to the 2022 MLS Cup, midfielder Kellyn Acosta, defenders Denil Maldonado and Diego Palacios, and of course, the departure of inaugural signing Carlos Vela. This was a team expected to look completely different this season and it has. As for the arrivals, the team spent the off-season loading up on the likes of goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, forwards Kei Kamara and Cristian Olivera, and defender Omar Campos. The rough start to the year for Los Angeles had a lot to do with the newness of the team and having to build that familiarity within the XI. 

Of the incoming transfers, who has made the biggest impression? Is there anyone who you’d like to see performing better than they have been so far?

TT: Its been hard for LAFC to replace a lot of the departures — not just in terms of production, but leadership and experience in several cases. While not technically an off-season arrival, Cristian Olivera, who arrived in summer window of 2023, really came into his own this season. With an entire off-season under his belt, he has by far been the best of the new arrivals for LAFC. He is producing goals, creating opportunities for others, and has that confidence this team thrives off of. On the other side of the coin, Hugo Lloris has been the biggest disappointment. In fairness to him, he has drastically improved during the team’s recent run, but the start of his MLS career had him easily one of the worst keepers in the league. 

LAFC is on a five-game unbeaten run in league play, what’s been working so well for the team during this stretch?

TT: Speaking of that run, the play of Lloris is why they have done so well recently. Well, that and Denis Bouanga appears to have found his soccer boots again. The 180 those two have done has been the catalyst for the team’s great run of form lately. 

Will any players be unavailable for selection due to injury, suspension, call-ups, etc.? What is your projected starting XI and score prediction?

TT: Availability reports come out night before the match, and we have the team presser this afternoon. with a few players set to return, I am unsure at the moment as to who exactly will be  ready to go.


Thank you to Trebor for helping get us caught up on LAFC. Vamos Orlando!

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Orlando City Needs to Start Using the Scoreboard Again

A deep statistical dive into Orlando City’s offensive struggles. We’re warning you…there will be math (but we do it for you).

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

One of the more memorable scenes in my favorite movie of all time, Bull Durham, is when the manager walks into the showers after another loss, yells at the team about their recent performance, and ends with “this (baseball) is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got it!?” Soccer is, of course, a little different but the concept remains the same. You pass the ball, you shoot the ball, you score the ball. Unless you are Orlando City, recently.

Anyone can look at the recent results for Orlando City and see that goals have been, shall we say, less than plentiful. But why is that happening? Well, one idea may be that another team in Orlando is using up all the goals, with the Orlando Pride having scored 19 (excluding opposition own goals) to Orlando City’s 15, with the Pride having played four fewer games to boot, but goals are not a zero-sum equation (I know you asked your math teacher for years when you would ever need to use equations in the real world; you’re welcome!), so let’s dive into what has been going on for Orlando City and take a look at what may be causing an average of 0.94 goals/game (again, excluding opposition own goals) in the 2024 MLS season after an average of 1.6 goals/game in 2023.

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” but I do not think a lack of shots taken is the main culprit for this Orlando City team this season. Yes, in the last match against the Red Bulls the Lions only managed five shots (all stats in this article are courtesy of fbref.com,  in collaboration with Opta, which codes thousands of matches every weekend across hundreds of competitions all over the world), but for the 2024 season, Orlando City is averaging 11.8 shots/game, 1.1 shots/game fewer than the league average of 12.9 but actually 0.1 higher than Orlando City’s 11.7 shots/game from 2023. Orlando City’s 11.8 shots/game ranks 23rd in all of MLS — not great, but the team with the most shots/game, St. Louis FC at 16.8, has only earned one more point than Orlando City after playing the same number of games, and the correlation (I told you there would be math) between shots/game and goals is relatively weak (r = 0.25, a strong positive correlation would be an r between 0.7 and the maximum r value of 1.0), so a higher value of shots/game does not necessarily lead to more goals.

What does tend to lead to more goals is more shots on target. I know, I know, you never would have thought of that. And as we look into shots on target for Orlando City in 2024, lo and behold, this is where we start to really see where the problems have arisen this season. Orlando City ranks 26th in MLS this year with 29% shots on target, so when you combine a rank of 23rd in shots/game with a rank of no. 26 in shots on target, you get a team that has scored a low amount of Goals as compared to the rest of the league. Orlando City’s 29% shots on target rate in 2024 is an 18% decrease from its 2023 shots on target percentage of 36% (7% raw decrease (36%-29% = 7%) but an 18% percent decrease (29%/36% – 100% = -18%), and the Lions’ 29% shots on target percentage is 1.28 standard deviations below the MLS average.

This is probably the time for me to tell you I was that high school math teacher who students asked about using math in the real world, and I did teach AP statistics, where we frequently talked about standard deviations and 1.28 standard deviations below the average is, in this case, to use a technical term, u-g-l-y and they ain’t got no alibi.

Is it as ugly as Bubba Sparxxx rapped about back in 2000? Was that just a question to make a pop culture reference about a song I enjoyed when I was in high school? Yes and yes. The first time I ever heard former Orlando City coach Adrian Heath interviewed he said, “Goals change games,” which of course is obvious and means that those who are taking the most shots need to be game changers. Looking at the table below, we can see who has been taking the shots and the differences between 2024 and 2023:

At first glance there is some good news. Orlando City’s leading shot takers this year are generally shooting on target around the league average, but it is on the clinical side, the goals per shot on target and goals per shot attempt where we can see that Orlando City is struggling.

We do see that Duncan McGuire continues to be clinical when he gets his shots on target, but the big drop for him is that last year he put nearly three out of every four shots on target and this year he is down to something much closer to the league average of around one out of every three. Among players with at least 17 shots last year (I chose this number because it would be 0.5 shots/game across 34 games and because it is my father’s favorite number), Duncan ranked first out of 244 MLS players in shots on target percentage and in goals per shots on target, and though his numbers this year are still above average, he is down to 43rd and 13th out of the 108 players who have taken more than 17 shots, respectively (keeping the same shot volume threshold for consistency). Four other major takeaways from me on this chart:

  • Facundo Torres was second on the list for most shots taken in 2023 and was an excellent finisher (this does include penalties, but they are shots and you have to make them), but in 2024 he is tied for fifth in shots with Dagur Dan Thórhallsson at only 15 shots taken.
  • Martin Ojeda remains a high volume shooter, but he is looking much more like Jordan Poole than Steph Curry this year with a lot of shots on target but not a lot of makes. And by not a lot I mean, sadly, zero.
  • Orlando City as a whole is taking shots from slightly closer to the goal but the team’s most frequent shooters are shooting from farther away than last year, and you do not need me as a math major to tell you that goalkeepers would prefer long shots over close shots.
  • Ercan Kara was a somewhat maligned striker for Orlando City, but he was pretty lethal when he got a shot off, putting more than two out of every five shots on frame and scoring at twice the MLS average on goals/shot. His 2023 shot volume is low on this chart because he left halfway through the season, but in his two years in MLS he scored at 21% and 22% on goals/shot, which put him in the upper echelon of shooters in the league.

Going back to McGuire and where he ranked in all of MLS, here is a heat map, but with the corresponding percentile ranks of Orlando City’s players among players who took at least 17 (hi Dad) shots (red to green scale — 0% (dark red, very low performance) to 100% (dark green, very good performance).

The comparisons between 2024 and 2023 are the most stark again in the columns involving goals, as in 2023 Orlando City’s most frequent shooters were scoring in the upper echelons of all MLS players, and this year there is much more red/orange than green for those with at least 17 shots. The other biggest differences of course surround who is taking the shots. Luis Muriel has arrived and has taken the most shots in 2024, but looking at his career shooting stats there is not a lot of evidence that being a lethal finisher is something in his skillset. Barbra Banda he is not, but then again nobody is Barbra Banda (except Barbra Banda), and expecting Muriel to change his playing style to be more of a finisher rather than initiator while adapting to a new league and teammates is lot to ask for someone who joined after the season began.

The bigger need for Orlando City is to get McGuire back on the field and to get Torres going, Facundo’s shots/90 minutes is down more than 50% from last season (largely owing to playing a lot of wingback over the last several weeks), and for someone who was in the 94th percentile in goals/shot in 2023 to have decreased their shot volume by so much is the opposite of what you want. Plus, Facundo is my son’s favorite player and he misses seeing Torres’ selfie celebration.

I want to end with a positive, however, and that is wrapped around the concept of regression to the mean. In the case of Orlando City this would actually likely be a positive regression as opposed to a negative one. During the last four years, MLS has been remarkably stable in terms of goals/shot on target (35%, 32%, 33%, 33%) and goals/shot (12%, 11%, 11%, 11%). Just because the league has been stable does not mean that Orlando City automatically will improve, but with the talent of the players on the squad and their history, I think it is more likely than not that Orlando City’s low performance so far in 2024 will come back up towards league average — much like a Major League Baseball player’s batting average on balls in play often evens out over time based on their level of skill.

Orlando City has talented players, including many who led the team to the best record in the team’s history last season, and I believe it is likely that we will start seeing small increases in goals/shot on target and goals/shot as the season progresses. I certainly hope we do, because it is much more fun when Orlando City masters this simple game and scores the ball, scores the ball, and scores the ball.

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