Orlando City manager Adrian Heath made it quite clear this week that he firmly believes his Lions have been the better side in both meetings with D.C. United this season and that, despite a pair of tough losses, the Lions will be going all out for three points on Sunday night at the Citrus Bowl.
"We certainly won't be [playing conservatively]", Heath said Tuesday, "because both games we've been the better team. If we play anything like [the first meeting] and create the chances we had on that day, we will win the game."
Both losses to D.C. have been narrow, one-goal defeats for Orlando, and the resulting six points have helped United build a nice advantage at the top of the MLS Eastern Conference. OCSC, on the other hand, currently sits in fourth instead of being on the heels of second-place New England.
In the first match that Heath alluded to from April 3, OCSC did appear to be the better team for the majority of the match before a stoppage time goal from Luis Silva handed the Lions a heartbreaking 1-0 loss.
On that night, the Lions out-shot D.C. 17-11, doing a good job of using the width of the pitch and creating opportunities. Possession was almost even (51% to 49% for OCSC), but the Lions were by far the more aggressive side, and United keeper Bill Hamid produced heroic efforts on several occasions to keep Orlando off the score sheet.
Of course, Brek Shea's save-of-the-week effort on a Chris Pontius shot in the second half that kept things level was also vital for Orlando, but Hamid's consistency kept D.C. in a game in which it was otherwise outplayed.
Four of OCSC's five shots on target in that first meeting came from inside the 18-yard box, and the Lions had five more shots from around the edge of the six-yard box that they were unable to put on target. An inability to finish, coupled with Hamid's stonewall performance, ultimately wasted a strong showing.
Although Heath was adamant about Orlando's superiority in the second meeting on May 13, the Lions were not nearly as consistent throughout the 90 minutes played at RFK Stadium. City took a 1-0 advantage on the strength of Cyle Larin's 11th minute laser into the left side of the net, but things unraveled down the stretch of the eventual 2-1 loss.
The loss of center back Aurélien Collin after 67 minutes was a turning point in the match, as substitute Tyler Turner - a 19-year-old, playing out of position - was exploited on goals from Kofi Opare* and Chris Rolfe in the 70th and 79th minutes, respectively. Orlando missed Collin dearly, as United out-shot the Lions and controlled 51% of the ball en route to the win.
*Opare went over the much smaller Rafael Ramos to score, but Collin's presence and experience in the middle was missed on the play.
Unlike the first match against D.C., Orlando played very narrow in the second outing. The Lions' four attacking players -- Larin, Kaká, Shea, and Eric Avila -- were crowded together in the center of the field, which contributed to one of Kaká's worst games of the season. The average position charts below illustrate the clog in the attacking midfield last month.
April 3 meeting:
May 13 meeting:
The Lions only generated three key passes (a pass that leads to an attempt at goal) in the second meeting, compared to 15 in the first. Two of those three key passes came in the middle third and led to long-range shot opportunities, which was very different from the initial meeting, when 11 such passes led to shots inside or just on the edge of the 18.
For the Lions to win this weekend, their performance will need to mirror that of the first meeting with United more closely than the second.
"If we get on the front foot in their half, make them uncomfortable, make them play quicker than they want to, and take them out of their comfort zone then I think we can win this game, because we've proven over our two games that we've taken nothing from that we're more than a match for D.C," Heath stated.
With Shea likely back in the fold along with a healthy Pedro Ribeiro, the Lions will have an opportunity to open things up in attack in front of their home crowd and hopefully avoid a three-game season sweep to United.