This past weekend Orlando City SC partook in the Carolina Challenge Cup in Charleston, SC. It was the final tune-up leading into Sunday's regular season opener against fellow MLS expansion club New York City FC. The ability to see the team play in competitive matches was eye-opening to fans and observers as to where the team sits just one week out.
There were good takeaways from the weekend, such as possession, buildup, and creating chances on goal. But there's still one problem that plagues the team and should be a serious concern for its fans; conceding counter-attacks.
In each of the three games Orlando City played this weekend, bad giveaways in the middle of the field led to either scoring opportunities or goals for the opponent. In the opening match against NYCFC, it was a giveaway by 20-year-old striker Bryan Rochez near midfield.
Quick movement saw Aurélien Collin beat, leading to a 56th-minute Khiry Shelton equalizer for NYCFC. Four days later against USL's Charleston Battery, though not resulting in a goal itself, and to a lesser extent than previously, the same problem occurred.
The same problem reared its head again in the final match of the preseason tournament Saturday night against the Houston Dynamo. In the 26th minute, an interrupted pass near midfield between Sean St. Ledger and Kevin Molino quickly turned into a counter-attack by Houston, started by a strong run by Boniek Garcia and an easy tap-in by Will Bruin.
After a red card for Collin and a penalty conversion for Houston's Brad Davis, Orlando City gave up a third first-half goal coming from the same flaw. This time it was club captain Kaká who lost possession to Garcia. Again, the Honduran led the attack for the Dynamo, this time setting up on-loan Argentine midfielder Lionel Miranda for a third goal on the stroke of halftime.
Orlando City is heading into the top division of soccer in the United States and the mistakes they could get away with the last four years in USL will cause trouble this coming season. The team is already seeing the havoc that giving away balls in the middle of the field can cause as, just this weekend, bad giveaways led to three goals in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
Another problem is the style of play that the Lions will employ this season. With the fullbacks pushing forward, only the center backs remain on the back line, making the team increasingly vulnerable to uneven numbers defensively. The two holding midfielders will shoulder a lot of that responsibility, but some of these possession miscues may happen in areas which will not allow them time to retreat to defensive positions.
It's not a total doomsday scenario for the Lions. The point of a preseason in any sport is to find your strengths and weaknesses, then figure out what you need to work on for the regular season against real competition. This preseason, especially this past weekend, Orlando City found out exactly what its main weakness is. If they don't remedy the problem and continue to relinquish possession in dangerous areas, it could be a long inaugural season in 2015.