Orlando City fans finally got a possible glimpse into the near future on Wednesday night when Head Coach Jason Kreis debuted his well-known diamond formation in the Lions’ scoreless draw against Toronto FC at BMO Field.
While Kreis originally said way back in July when he was hired that he wouldn’t rush into making any major changes in his new squad — like switching from the 4-2-3-1 to the 4-4-2 diamond — the Lions were coming into the match riding a three-game losing streak, so something had to change.
Orlando City has been playing basically the same system since it entered MLS last season, so Wednesday’s lineup definitely drew some attention and interest.
For those of you not familiar with the formation, let’s run a quick review:
The diamond formation runs as a 4-4-2 and, just like it sounds, the four midfielders set in a diamond shape rather than the basic flat four. A lone defensive midfielder, or "No. 6," plants as a safeguard for the back line, with the two wingers, No. 10, and a pair of strikers ahead of him.
For years, Kreis had the ability to work with Kyle Beckerman as his No. 6, and the pair were very successful in the process. Should Kreis switch to the diamond full-time, finding that Beckerman-type player in Orlando will be a key piece of the puzzle. Antonio Nocerino has played well under Kreis, but I’m not sure his defensive work rate fits the bill, and that could be a big problem for running the system effectively.
On Wednesday, the No. 6 was Servando Carrasco. Brek Shea and Kevin Molino were the wing players. Kaká, of course, was in the No. 10 role, and Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas shared the space up top, running with each other for the first time this season.
Toronto, which runs a very similar system under Greg Vanney, was able to spot the flaws in Orlando City’s lineup and use it to their advantage, which ended up forcing Kreis to conclude the experiment much sooner than he probably had hoped for.
To work effectively, Kreis planned on running the diamond tight with the midfield staying compact. That was supposed to get the defense in check and keep the midfield working efficiently on the attack to incorporate both strikers.
However, what Toronto was able to do was force play to the wings and stretch the field. That made Orlando City a little uncomfortable and exposed the shape of the team.
Toronto spent much of the first half running almost only through the wings and at Orlando’s fullbacks, which, as you may know, aren’t one of the team’s biggest strengths.
You could also say Toronto failed to take advantage because — even though the Reds created a couple of big chances — they never actually scored. By not attacking Orlando City's defense head-on, as recent teams have successfully done, Toronto was forced to attack from angles that were easier to defend.
The Lions did try to play narrow, but Toronto was able to stretch them and cut the flow of the offense. On the flip side, Larin and Rivas showed some promise together up top. Rivas didn’t last until the end of the half when, as Kreis decided to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 at the 40-minute mark, but he still showed flashes of his raw potential.
We know what Kreis can do with this. It’s going to take some heavy cosmetic repairs this off-season in terms of how the roster applies this formation, but there’s obviously the potential to make it work with some of the personnel already in place.
Who knows if we’ll see the diamond again before the season’s over — I wouldn’t be shocked if Orlando does run it again soon — but at the very least, Kreis has his work cut out for him to get it operating the way he would like.