Orlando City’s inaugural season in Major League Soccer is still in its infancy, but it isn't too early to be slightly concerned by a trend that has dominated the Lions’ first three matches. Despite controlling possession in all of their games, OCSC has failed to make the most of its advantages in ball control, generating only eight shots on goal over that span that have collectively resulted in just one goal, excluding the own goal scored by Houston in week two.
It could easily be argued that Orlando has outplayed its opponents in every match, generally controlling the flow of play and looking like the better side for long stretches of each competition. Soccer can be a cruel game, however, and a simple statistic such as possession doesn't tell the story of a match if that ownership of the ball isn't put to good use.
Pass it around all you want, as Orlando did 558 times compared to Vancouver’s 336 passes on Saturday night, but if the opposing goal is not threatened, the possession is marginalized.
While Orlando has been dictating the pace of its games and bossing possession in large part, there has been an obvious lack of end product that has led to OCSC securing only four of a possible nine points thus far. Despite the Lions’ dominance in possession – Orlando has controlled the ball for at least 55 percent of all three games it has played – they have not truly tested the mettle of opposing goalkeepers, save for a couple of occasions.
This inability to create quality chances at goal is not for a lack of effort, as several shots have drifted just high or wide of goal; Pedro Ribeiro had two such shots against Vancouver, one a curler from distance and the other on a header, while Cyle Larin also pushed a chance wide right.
A lone striker playing atop the 4-2-3-1 formation needs service from his three attacking midfielders in order to generate goals, and Kaká and company have done a decent job in that regard. The ideal striker in this formation could possess size and strength for effective hold up play to go along with powerful finishing, or be a smaller striker who is able to run onto balls and finish chances. But it’s tough to finish chances when you aren't putting the ball on target – the four strikers Orlando has played to this point have only mustered one shot on goal collectively.
The two strikers who featured for OCSC on Saturday are among the more physically formidable forwards in the squad, in the 6-foot-4 Pedro Ribeiro and the 6-foot-2 Cyle Larin. Ribeiro came close on a pair of chances on Saturday night, but his average position throughout the match was actually slightly behind that of Kaká in the attacking third due to Whitecaps FC crowding the central midfield, an area where they were vulnerable in their previous match against Chicago Fire.
Larin, who remains extremely green at the professional level, looked good in his limited minutes off the bench, but only managed one shot in just over 20 minutes.
The combined efforts of Ribeiro, Larin, Carlos Rivas and Bryan Róchez so far have not been able to find a breakthrough in 270 minutes of action, so hopefully the eventual return of Martin Paterson will provide a boost up front. Róchez may also have more opportunity to get game experience during the current international break, which will see Larin playing with the Canadian national side and unavailable against Montreal.
The chances the Lions have created have largely come through the work of their midfield, which centers on the dynamic creativity of Kaká as well as Kevin Molino, who had been impressive before a disappointing outing against Vancouver. However, only 10 of Orlando City’s 32 shots this season have come from within the penalty area, and only one shot – Kaká’s deflected free kick from outside the box against New York City FC – wound up finding the back of the net.
Orlando’s attacking mids have generated 18 total shots but have only managed to put five of them on target. Combined with the inefficacy of the OCSC strike force, these numbers illustrate City’s failure to truly test opposing keepers so far this season from the midfield as well as the front of the line.
To be fair, two of the better efforts from OCSC midfielders – a beautiful, curling free kick from Kaká in Houston and a 20-yard Molino strike toward the bottom right corner against NYCFC – were met with equally brilliant saves by Tyler Deric and Josh Saunders, respectively. But it seems at times that City – and Molino in particular – is over-dribbling a bit in the final third when shot opportunities are there to be had. A calmer approach in the attacking third and perhaps shooting a bit more liberally instead of over-thinking or making one too many passes could do well for the Lions.
Although Orlando City seems deserving of more than four points through three matches, the production in attack – from the strikers and midfielders alike – remains a work in progress. How far it progresses will be critical in determining whether or not City is to make a playoff push in year one.