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How Has the Orlando City Defense Fared Through Three Games?

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The Lions recorded their first clean sheet of the 2016 season last week at New York City FC. How has the Orlando City defense performed through the early season?

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City is allowing a goal per game on average through the early season, which is good enough for a third-place position in the MLS Eastern Conference table through the first three fixtures of the year. The first clean sheet of the campaign last week at Yankee Stadium was critical in securing the Lions' first victory of the year, and in the spirit of our own David Rohe who recently took a glance at City's scoring to this point in the season, it's time to look at where Orlando's defense sits relative to the league at this early juncture.

Game 1: Orlando City vs. Real Salt Lake

The season-opening contest with Real Salt Lake was a strange one, as both teams saw players sent off in the first half of the match. Facing an RSL squad with a dangerous attacking trio of Juan Manuel MartínezJoao Plata and Yura Movsisyan, the Lions conceded in the 25-minute period when they enjoyed a man advantage thanks to a Seb Hines tackle gone bad in the box. Plata converted from the spot in the 26th minute and would find the net again in the 66th minute after some nice build-up involving Tony Beltran and Martínez.

The scintillating finale from Orlando to save a point would make it all feel better in the end, however, and RSL has since proven to be one of the more exciting sides in MLS with a win at home against Seattle and a 2-2 draw on the road against defending champion Portland.

vs. Real Salt Lake Total On Target Off Target Blocked
Shots Allowed 8 4 3 1
Left Center Right Inside Box Outside Box
Shot Locations 3 4 1 6 2
Goal Locations 0 2 (1 PK) 0 2 N/A

Game 2: Orlando City vs. Chicago Fire

An early opening goal from Cyle Larin was negated within 10 minutes after an Orlando City turnover led to a John Goossens long ball to a streaking David Accam, who coolly slotted past Joe Bendik in a one-on-one situation at the other end of the pitch. Goossens took full advantage of an Antonio Nocerino giveaway, playing a superb long ball, and while some blame could be assigned to Hines for failing to use his body to keep Accam from blowing past him, that's a feat that's a lot easier said than done while running with a burner like Accam in the open field.

More disappointing than the goal allowed in this contest was the inability of Orlando to find a second goal despite playing the final hour of the match with a man advantage after Michael Harrington was sent off in minute 32 following a reckless challenge on Brek Shea.

vs. Chicago Fire Total On Target Off Target Blocked
Shots Allowed 10 2 6 2
Left Center Right Inside Box Outside Box
Shot Locations 1 5 3 7 3
Goal Locations 0 1 0 1 N/A

Game 3: New York City FC vs. Orlando City

The Lions went back to New York, where they had allowed a five-goal performance last July in their only previous trip to Yankee Stadium, to face an NYCFC club that had scored six goals over the course of its first two matches. Tommy Redding and Cristian Higuita turned in big-time outings and Bendik came up with a series of huge saves, and the Lions somehow managed to keep a clean sheet in a 1-0 win over NYC.

City conceded 66 percent of the possession to New York on the night and was out-shot and out-passed 632 to 334, making it seem like the least likely of Orlando's three 2016 matches to end in a shutout. Bendik came up with a pair of big stops against Mix Diskerud on sure-fire chances, and Steven Mendoza was denied by the post while David Villa was held mostly in check by Redding and Co. in what will hopefully be the first of many clean sheets in '16. It was an impressive effort from the defense to hold up under so much pressure for much of this match.

at NYCFC Total On Target Off Target Blocked
Shots Allowed 15 5 7 3
Left Center Right Inside Box Outside Box
Shot Locations 4 7 4 8 7
Goal Locations N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A

League Comparison

Orlando's three goals allowed through three matches ties the Lions for the best mark in the East with Philly and Toronto and puts them behind only Colorado and Sporting Kansas City in MLS. Of course, the 2015 Lions had only allowed two goals across their first three matches at this point a year ago, and had also registered a clean sheet in that span before winding up the season with the fourth-worst goals against tally in the league (56).

While early returns have been promising, especially in the play of Redding, who appears poised to become a mainstay in the starting XI, three games is still a very small sample size. It must be said that last year's squad went through a horrific run from late July through early September in which it allowed three goals or more five times in an eight-match stretch (they conceded three or more goals six times total in '15, for context). That run was mired by red cards (Tyler Turner saw red in a 4-0 loss at Seattle; Rafael Ramos and Adrian Winter were sent off in a 5-0 loss at Toronto) and a dormant offense without Kaká for portions of the futile stretch.

Hopefully this year's edition of Orlando City can avoid a slump of such epic proportions that ultimately ruined the team's defensive record and buried it in a goal-differential hole during its playoff push toward the end of the campaign. While it's very early yet, an encouraging performance in NYC and stellar showings from Redding, Higuita and Bendik provide optimism that this year's side can maintain a higher level of defensive play going forward, especially once center back David Mateos returns.