What Are They All About? Orlando City SC
Crazy eights. After defeating the New England Revolution 2-1 at Gillette Stadium on Saturday the Chicago Fire find themselves on an eight-match unbeaten run in the league. Perhaps more importantly, they seem to have finally overcome their away match curse for good as the win against the Revs was their third road victory of the season across all competitions. Paunovic showed his tactical astuteness by reconfiguring the line-up amidst David Accam’s absence and New England’s narrow play by shifting Schweinsteiger into a sweeper role. The continued success of Nikolic, the nonstop hard work of DeLeeuw, McCarty’s ability to marshal the midfield, and the solidity of the back line all shone through as Chicago looks unstoppable. Their next test comes in the form of a familiar foe as Orlando visits Toyota Park this Saturday (7:30 CT on CSN Chicago), the second meeting between the two sides this month.
Should Chicago continue their impressive home form (7-0-1), their efforts could yield the ultimate reward at the half way mark of the season. Toronto started a full-strength lineup against Montreal in the Canadian Championship on Wednesday and if fatigue causes a slip up against New England on Friday, Chicago could be first in the Supporters Shield standings come Saturday evening. Orlando won’t be a walk over by any stretch of the imagination as Jason Kreis and his charges will want to avenge the 0-0 home draw that came on the back of what they felt was ludicrous refereeing.
The Lions had a midweek game against the reigning champion Seattle Sounders and managed to salvage a draw in the dying seconds of the match, the second such occurrence in as many games. Kaka has returned to full fitness, players other than Larin have started finding the back of the net, and the prospect of moving into third in the East should lead to a hard-fought encounter in Chicago. Will Orlando spark a mid-season turnaround and push for a top place in the East, or will Chicago avenge the points they dropped in the Sunshine state three weeks ago? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
Orlando Form Guide (last five league matches): D-D-D-W-L
Previous Result: A 1-1 draw away to Seattle.
Formation: 4-4-2; Bendik; Toia, Spector, Redding, Sutter; Kaka, Higuita, Nocerino, Perez Garcia; Rivas, Barnes
Strengths: Our recent preview of this Orlando side cited Cyle Larin’s impressive form, a much-needed reinforcement of the back line, and the heroics of Joe Bendik as strengths. We’ll try to keep this column brief but some impressive performances in June bear mentioning. Let’s see where the Lions might succeed on Saturday.
Encore, Encore, Encore: While looking at Orlando’s recent form doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their ability, three consecutive draws (two of which were at home), results do not always tell the whole story. Fire supporters will remember the earlier fixture as being frustrating to say the least, but they will also have to give credit where it is due. Kries and CJ Brown’s ability to lock down defensively with only nine men on the pitch has to be applauded as effective in that particular circumstance. Although Chicago battered Orlando with twenty-one shots in the encounter, only six were on target, eleven were taken from outside the box, and most were from speculative angles. Against Montreal, the Larin-less Lions found themselves down 3-2 at home in the dying seconds but never wavered, earning a late draw. The Seattle performance saw Orlando walk into Century Link and match Seattle in possession, chance creation, and in defensive interventions, leading to an even game a well-earned midweek away point.
Context is everything in these scenarios and the hard work seems to be paying off little by little for a side that many saw as Wooden Spoon Contenders. As Jason Kreis said himself in his Wednesday night presser, “Continuing to pick up points always helps because as a coach you can get very fatigued of telling the team you’re really happy with the way they’re playing when they don’t pick up points and don’t get results. So, now, there’s some weight behind that message”. Orlando will be entering Saturday’s encounter with belief; coupled with under-dog status and a “backs against the wall” scenario at Toyota Park, the Lions could surprise us.
Weaknesses: As we approach this weekend’s match it bears remembering that the last time we previewed Orlando we discussed their single dimensionality, their lack of goal scoring, and the impact that Kaka’s absences have had on the team as weaknesses. Although Kaka has returned (we’re not sure for how long) and the match against Montreal saw them net thrice, we’re still not convinced. Let’s see where else they could struggle on Saturday.
“I was on the Wrong Side of the Road Because I’m from Canada”: No, that is not a bit from Saturday Night Live. It’s the excuse that an intoxicated Cyle Larin gave to his arresting officer after he was pulled over for a DUI. While we sincerely wish Larin a productive time at the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program, his actions will clearly have a negative impact on the team. Off the field, Kaka and Kreis have already thrown their support behind the youngster but both of them alluded to the difficulties associated with Larin’s decisions.
A team with the third lowest goal total in the East just lost the player responsible for almost half of their tallies. Carlos Rivas and Giles Barnes will be asked to shoulder the breadth of those responsibilities but the former is known for his extravagant attempts rather than his neat finishing while the latter has struggled to settle into a grove since bouncing around clubs this season. Additionally, as schedule congestion hits its mid-season high, Larin has done no favors for a side that only has three other senior forwards. The match against Chicago will be their fourth in eleven days, including an Open Cup loss to lower league opposition, a lengthy West Coast flight, and a direct trip to the Windy city afterwards. Barnes and Rivas should be standing on tired legs come Saturday.
Reinvent Yourself: Whether Jason Kreis is an effective coach or not is a conversation for another time, but what is not up for debate is his unwillingness to budge from a given system. We talked about their singular dimensionality last time around and Kreis’ flat 4-4-2 has continued to be the formation of choice since then, despite its lack of results. (Yes, we realize the MS graphics say otherwise but they’re lying to you). Part of the problem with this system is that he Kreis is asking his midfielders to play out of position in some cases, and has similar players overlapping in roles. Since his return, Kaka has featured on the left wing of the formation and although the speed and exuberance of Toia’s overlapping runs add some nuance to the approach, Kaka is not a winger. His wide play paid off against Montreal in the assist to Perez Garcia, but the acres of space that open up when his 35-year-old legs refuse to track back is costly. Look for Accam and Solignac to switch wings in this one and exploit the gap created by the repositioning of Kaka.
Similarly, the approach play from Orlando’s midfield is not subtle about what they’re doing. Rather than attempting to create two vs. one situations or string together intricate passes in behind the line, Nocerino and Higuita are responsible for winning the ball back and moving up the field centrally or passing it out wide to a casually jaunting Kaka or Perez Garcia. The organization and unison movement is at times a beautiful thing to behold, but that type of pay just won’t work against Schweinsteiger and McCarthy in front of the Conference’s second-best defense. Kreis’ inability to grow tactically could be his downfall yet again.
Come at Me Bro: While the statistics were exacerbated due to Chicago’s nine match advantage, the tendencies were clear. Orlando doesn’t seem to mind letting the opposition create chances from inside their box. They seem to think Bendik’s heroics and Spector’s fortitude will bail them out every time. Perhaps it has to do with five different center back pairings in their last five matches, but Orlando has allowed 60% of the shots they’ve faced in those most recent encounters to be taken from inside the eighteen. We don’t expect Niko to have another off day like he did in the first encounter. If Orlando continues to allow those kind of chances, they will be punished on Saturday.
Prediction: At the end of the day, Orlando City has been tying matches they should win, losing matches they should tie, and no matter how Jason Kreis feels about it, their strong start won’t hold them above water for much longer. Chicago’s ascendancy will not be hindered by this Orlando side. Chicago 4-1 Orlando. A Nikolic brace, Solignac’s fourth in four, and a wondergoal from DeLeeuw give Chicago the three points.