Orlando City earned three points Saturday night against the Chicago Fire with a late goal from Brian Róchez; the 1-0 shutout marking the first for the Lions since Aug. 8, when Orlando and Philadelphia played to a 0-0 draw. Tally Hall was excellent in goal for Orlando and the play of the back four defenders has become more consistent in the last two matches. The play of David Mateos in the win may not have stood out on the stat sheet, but we will take a look at some plays he made that display his growing comfort on the back line alongside fellow center back Aurélien Collin.
We have talked in an earlier tactical piece about how spacing between the back four is crucial for success. The back four needs to be in constant communication and the defenders have to take in the whole picture of the players that are coming at them in attack. Mateos has started to look more comfortable now playing alongside a more aggressive Collin and left back Luke Boden.
Take this play in the second minute. Orlando City has just given the ball away and Mateos is denying the pass to the lone striker. The striker is not going to get the ball now, and will make a run behind and try to create space between the two center backs.
Boden is out of position and this is what breaks down for Orlando City. When Orlando carelessly loses the ball in the defensive third, the outside back is usually pushed forward and out of position. This is less Boden's fault, and more so Orlando's failure to possess the ball in a critical area.
Even though Boden is out of the play, Mateos and Collin are compact next to each other. If Chicago plays a ball out wide, it is less dangerous than being beat down the center and the heart of the defense. The other way to look at it is which ball Hall will have a better opportunity to save: one coming from the middle, or one from the side that allows Tally to cut down a better angle? Mateos stays central, and he gets a blocked shot on this play.
Now take this instance in the eighth minute of play. Collin is forward and out of position as he has aggressively gone up the field to press Chicago. Mateos does the right thing here and slides over to cover the space that Collin should occupy. In earlier matches, Mateos was not ready and wouldn't be over to cover the play. Here we see him come over and, on this play, he earns a goal kick with a well-timed tackle. The back four on this play did well, as Boden had moved over and had the cross taken care of.
Finally, the play of the game for me was Hall's save late in the first half. Hall is forced into action and makes a great diving save to his left. To the casual fan, this looks to be a great save by Hall. If we dig deeper into this play, however, we will notice some really good defending.
The first thing I want people to see is how the back four move together. Carlos Rivas comes over and puts light pressure on the outside midfielder, and the ball gets played back. When this happens, the defenders who are standing 12 to 14 yards away from goal push forward to reduce the space between the midfielders and the back line. This was done almost flawlessly as the back line resets.
Chicago then plays the ball in -- and it's a well-placed ball -- but because Orlando reset their line, the header comes from 18 yards out versus 12 to 14 yards, as it would have if they hadn't reset their line. The other thing this does is pull Chicago into an offside position, which is the end result of the play. If the player wasn't offside, this would have still given Hall an extra fraction of time to make a save. Another thing Mateos does is jump for the header despite having no chance at reaching it. This is important and more young defenders need to do this, as it limits the striker's ability to place the ball where he wants to put it.
Here is the video of this play
Consistency will make the defending better, and we have seen Orlando City's back four stay consistent over the last two matches. The next test will be the New York Red Bulls, a team that has already clinched a berth in the MLS playoffs. If Mateos and the back line can stay as compact and communicate as well as they did against Chicago, they have a great opportunity to steal points in New York.