Orlando City's basic failing last night in a 2-0 loss to Toronto FC was not getting the ball wide. In his postgame press conference, Lions Head Coach Adrian Heath lamented the way his club continued to try to force its way up the middle rather than take the space the Reds were leaving out on the edge.
Attacking midfielders Eric Avila, Kaká and Kevin Molino continuously played the ball to each other and to rookie striker Cyle Larin up the middle of the pitch, often into the waiting feet of experienced Toronto players, who often baited the pass to begin with. The Reds put nine or 10 men behind the ball all night and were content to counter attack.
This is clear from the possession statistics. Orlando City held the ball for 64.9% of the game, including a decisive 70.1% during a second half in which the Lions conceded twice and only a sprawling save by Donovan Ricketts prevented Sebastian Giovinco from making it three.
"They made it difficult and blocked the middle off and we fell into the trap of continually trying to force it through the middle of the pitch," Heath said. "Overall I don't think we were good enough to win the game and obviously (it's an) utter disappointment because one of the things that we have done well are not the results but I think we've played well enough to obtain something out of the games. I can't really say that this evening."
Brek Shea did his best to provide width on the left side, getting forward whenever he could and spraying crosses into the box. However, there were times when his teammates failed to look for his bombing runs, including Kaká himself, who ignored a 60-yard Shea sprint and held the ball before making a short pass into the middle.
On the other side, Tyler Turner started at right back for the suspended Rafael Ramos. The right side of the field in particular seemed to lack width throughout the first half, as Toronto defenders sagged off of Turner and focused on Molino. It didn't help that Turner's first few crosses were well off the mark. He got better in the second half, although he was culpable for Toronto gaining possession and countering for the second Jozy Altidore goal.
This is what Orlando City's heat map looked like for all players, minus the fullbacks and goalkeeper (courtesy of whoscored.com):
As an illustration of where the Lions were going with the ball, here is Molino's passing chart from mlssoccer.com:
Basically all of the Trinidadian's inside passes in the attacking half were unsuccessful. This chart shows that only twice did he play the ball forward into the empty space on the flank of Toronto's defensive line. That's not going to get it done against a team packing the middle.
With better recognition of what Toronto was doing to clog up the middle - and Molino admitted after the match that the Lions figured it out too late - Orlando City could have created issues out wide for Toronto's defense and gotten in behind, rather than try to plow through Michael Bradley, Benoit Cheyrou and others.
Toronto Head Coach Greg Vanney said the Lions played right into the Reds' hands.
"I felt like if we clogged up certain areas of the field we would make it challenging for them and I think they would run out of ideas," Vanney said. "If you take away certain spaces for Kaká and make it tight for some of the other guys, then it's going to be difficult for them. We did what we set out to do."
Both Heath and Molino defended Turner's play in his first home MLS start in place of the suspended Rafael Ramos.
"Tyler did OK," said Heath in his postgame presser.
Molino, who often links up with Ramos on Orlando City's right side, said the Ramos red card suspension wasn't a factor.
"I think Tyler played a good game," said the Trinidad & Tobago international. "For a young player, I think he did pretty good. I'm accustomed to playing with Rafa but I think Tyler had a good game today. All things considered, we have a good squad and we have good depth and whoever comes in can replace them. I think Tyler did well."
Turner finished with a team high eight crosses but only one deemed accurate by whoscored.com. He also had one of the poorest passing percentages on the team (73.1%).
Toronto's Quick Re-Start
Despite seeing it once in the first half, Orlando City was victimized by a quick restart on a free kick on the first Toronto goal. Aurelien Collin was whistled for an inadvertent handball trying for an aerial ball in his own half. With Altidore holding the ball, veteran Orlando defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo stepped by the USMNT star, appearing to say something to the referee.
While Okugo did this, Altidore put down the ball and passed quickly to Giovinco, who returned it to him. Darwin Ceren had an opportunity to thwart Altidore's run with a tactical foul, but instead he laid off, allowing the Toronto striker to blow past Seb Hines and send a shot on goal. Donovan Ricketts got a hand on it but wasn't strong enough to stop it, giving the Reds the lead.
"We spoke about the first goal - quick free kicks. We nearly got caught with one in the first half," Heath said. "The first goal was a bit of naivety. We were not as switched on as we should have been."
Four-Game Attendance Record
Orlando City established a new Major League Soccer mark for average attendance by an expansion team over its first four home games. Last night's attendance of 30,908 brought the club's average over its first four matches at the Citrus Bowl to 39,328.
This breaks the LA Galaxy's old MLS mark of 38,826 through four games set in the league's first year of 1996.