Orlando City has started to find its form defending during the last set of matches. We have seen the team hold a 1-0 lead and last night hold a result after going down a player. Orlando City defended as a team and had a very impressive performance from Tally Hall that secured the result.
Let's take a look at some simple things Orlando City does very well in defending that will make them successful down the road.
Orlando City and pretty much every professional and national team uses a flat back four system that relies on zonal marking. In zonal marking, the zones are distributed across the field as shown. The four zones are roughly 14 yards for the middle two zones and 18-25 yards for the outside zones.
Each defender is responsible for the zone they occupy and the one next to it. Center backs have three zones they have to cover. It is important to have center backs that are knowledgeable about the game and communicate well to their fellow defenders. Aurelien Collin and Sean St. Ledger have tons of experience and do a great job communicating to their back line and pointing out where other backs need to go.
The back four has to move as a team and it is why soccer is about team defending. The back four needs to move as one. The defense should be moving as if they are connected by a rope that is 10-15 yards long. The goal is to minimize space in dangerous areas. Let's take a look at some simple scenarios.
In this instance, the attacking team has the ball in an outside zone. There should be three lines of defense. This means that each defender will be at different depth. The outside defender will address the ball, while the center back on his side comes over for cover. It is up to the coach's philosophy on where the outside defender pushes the attacker.
For Orlando City, the outside backs always push the attacker inside. This is to eliminate dangerous crosses and play to the strengths of our center backs and their tackling ability. Rafael Ramos is excellent at not getting beat down the line and he pushes the ball always toward the center back, who comes forward and takes the ball away.
If an outside back does get beat on the outside flank, he needs to recover and deny the cross.
In the next scenario, the attacker is in a central zone and is looking to go to goal. The center back has to address the attacker but the outside back and the center back pinch in. This is to minimize the space where the attacker can dribble through.
Doing this forces the striker to play the ball back or await more support. There is plenty of space on the side to play the ball, however, it will take time to play that ball and will give the outside backs an opportunity to reorganize and handle the situation.
The last two scenarios address when the back line should drop back and defend and when they should come up to help with the defending. It can be broken down simply as this: if there is no pressure, and the striker is running at the back four, they should drop centrally as a group. They need to drop to an area where a shot can be comfortably saved by the keeper but not too far out where, if beat, they create a breakaway.
If there is midfield pressure on the ball, the back line should push up. This will reduce the amount of space the opposition has to play in front of the defense.
Orlando City does a great job at zonal marking because it plays to their strengths. Tally Hall is an excellent shot stopper and most shots from long distances won't trouble him. We saw this Saturday night against Real Salt Lake. Hall doesn't get enough credit as a shot preventer, as he is always communicating to his back line on where the opposing attack is coming from, thus preventing dangerous opportunities before they materialize.
City's quick outside backs, Ramos and Luke Boden, are able to cover quick switches. Collin, Seb Hines, and St. Ledger do well at reading the opposing team's attack and help organize the defense and put everything on the line to keep the ball out of the net. As these players start to play more together, the better they will become. Teams will rarely switch up their back four because of the need to work as a unit and the communication that it takes to be successful is learned through time playing together. The continuity of the back line will be the most important thing going forward for Orlando City.
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