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Orlando City vs. Inter Miami: Five Takeaways

Here’s what we learned from Orlando City’s scoreless draw at home against Inter Miami.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City welcomed Tropic Thunder rival Inter Miami to Inter&Co Stadium Wednesday night, and while it would have been nice to get revenge for the 5-0 beatdown in Ft. Lauderdale in March, we’ll have to settle for the scoreless draw. With or without Lionel Messi, Miami has been formidable in 2024, sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings. The Herons entered on a five-game streak of scoring at least three goals, so holding them scoreless is a good result, and the defensive performance is something to build on.

Here’s what I saw in Wednesday’s match.

Pareja’s Plug-and-Play 3-5-2

Oscar Pareja went back to the 3-5-2 formation that was so successful at Philadelphia. With Robin Jansson out with an ankle injury, Papi inserted Rodrigo Schlegel as the left center back next to Wilder Cartagena and David Brekalo. Ivan Angulo and Facundo Torres reprised their roles as wingbacks (more on that below), outside a midfield of Nico Lodeiro, Cesar Araujo, and Martin Ojeda. Luis Muriel and Duncan McGuire were the forwards at the top of the formation. Lodeiro’s role was that of a deep-lying playmaker, while Araujo had a defense-first role and Ojeda was higher in the attack. While it didn’t create as much against Miami as it did against the Union, the formation was largely effective and will likely be used again in the future. The team adapted well, turning in one of its best defensive performances of the season. While there were no goals scored, there were chances.

Herons Pick on Angulo

Much of Miami’s attack focused on the left side of the Herons’ formation — Orlando’s defensive right — where Angulo was playing wingback. Miami’s players on that side were winger Robert Taylor and fullback Franco Negri, who both have good pace. While Angulo can blaze past most opponents when making recovery runs, the Miami duo had enough speed to get in behind on the left flank and stay ahead of Angulo multiple times. The most dangerous chances on the night came from that side, while the players on the right — Matias Rojas, Julian Gressel, and Marcelo Weigandt — didn’t make much noise against Torres. Neither Angulo nor Torres are natural defenders, so it was interesting to see Miami focus more on the left instead of using both sides equally.

Cartagena Adds Center Back Option for Orlando City

While Cartagena has excelled as a defensive midfielder since arriving in Orlando, and his game at Phiadelphia was a mixed bag, the Peruvian has seemingly presented himself as another option for the Lions’ back line. Cartagena was arguably the team’s best center back against Miami, often being isolated against Luis Suarez. Cartagena held his own all night, and made several big plays. The team has opted to keep just three “regular” center backs, augmenting them by putting Abdi Salim or Thomas Williams on the bench when there’s an injury or suspension. However, it’s clear from watching OCB matches that neither Salim nor Williams are ready for MLS just yet, although there is plenty of upside for both. The emergence of Cartagena as an option is vital, and by protecting him in a three-man back line (and having success with it), Pareja has found some unexpected formation flexibility. We’d all like to see Robin Jansson healthy and in the lineup quickly, but it’s always good to have depth options — even unconventional ones.

Muriel Rounding into Form

Although there were no goal contributions from striker Muriel, the Colombian striker showed that his performance against Philadelphia was not a one-off. Muriel was outstanding both in the attack and in winning the ball back for his team. He should have had an assist on a Martin Ojeda goal in the 32nd minute, splitting the defense with his pass through a narrow opening. Unfortunately, Ojeda left his shot too close to Drake Callender, who still had to make a world-class save to keep it out. He dribbled defenders at will, made three key passes, and his second-half steal resulted in a yellow card on Taylor. He did the same thing to Sergio Busquets, only to see a soft foul given the other way. Muriel passed at a 74% success rate, put the ball in good areas, and forced a second big save from Callender with one of his three shots. While you’d like to see him finish his chance in the 77th minute on the counterattack, he lost the handle while setting himself up for a final move and shot, which is understandable with all the running he did Saturday and Wednesday. If this form continues, the goals and assists will as well.

Three Big Defensive Plays Led to Lions’ Clean Sheet

There were three key moments from Orlando City’s defense that preserved the clean sheet Wednesday night. The first happened two minutes after kickoff, when Luis Suarez managed to get outside and behind Brekalo. One of the most dangerous strikers in all of MLS was alone on goal with only Pedro Gallese to beat. Despite being at an angle, Suarez normally finishes such chances, but Gallese did well to get down and get a tentacle to the shot, keeping it out of his net. The defense arrived in time to clear the rebound and the Lions had dodged a bullet. The second big chance came in the seventh minute. It looked like an offside play when fullback Negri got in behind down the left flank. He cut the ball back for the trailing run of Taylor, who fired on target with his first shot. Brekalo was there to block the effort, keeping the game scoreless. The third of Miami’s golden opportunities came late. In the 74th minute, Jordi Alba — who had subbed on for Negri — got to the end line and sent a cross just in front of goal that got past Gallese at the near post. With striker Leonardo Campana breaking toward the back post, it appeared the shutout was over. However, midfielder-turned-center-back Cartagena arrived just in time to block the cross and Orlando survived.


That’s what I took away from a hard-fought, scoreless battle at Inter&Co Stadium. What stuck out to you? Let us know in the comments.

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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