Orlando City completes its two-game road swing on Saturday at New England, with a clash with the Revolution at Gillette Stadium. I'm not even going to say anything bad about MLS referees this week. I'm simply going to assume that we finally get through a match without any real controversy.
The match at New York was disappointing in almost every facet, from finding out Saturday the Lions would be without Kaká to the seemingly nonstop waves of Red Bull attacks that started just seconds after Cyle Larin made it 1-0 for the good guys. Herein, we'll wrap up that match and look ahead to the Revs. Joining us at the big, purple, round table this week are Daniel McGann, Brent Petkus, and Jeff Milby. Let's get right to it.
On Sunday, Orlando City once again scored an early goal and then proceeded to spend much of the rest of the game on the back foot. Why can't this team seem to build on early game success?
Daniel: Well, our passing percentage is 77.3% for 2016 and was 81.7% for 2015. So, we are connecting passes at a lower clip, leading to more giveaways and less possession. This becomes exacerbated throughout the match, especially when we score early and the other team begins to pressure. We have not dealt with that type of high pressure from other teams this year, and it has caused issues and teams will continue to exploit Orlando in that fashion.
Brent: This team is still very young and is not used to having an early lead. Last year, this team was having difficulties finding results early in the season. Now they are finding themselves in the lead early in matches and they are playing more defensively. They are sitting back and absorbing pressure, which was successful against NYCFC. They need to be more like the team that played the Portland Timbers than the NYCFC game.
Jeff: This is the proverbial million dollar question for Orlando this season. For me, it comes down to midfield play. In order to compete in the possession game, your midfield must be able to take control. Kaká has been injured, and without him there has been next to no consistency from the middle third. Antonio Nocerino has been a no-show since donning purple and Kevin Molino has been up and down. Of course injuries have played a big role, but there has been little lineup consistency so far from Adrian Heath in this department. Granted, on the whole this is still a young team, and closing out a game positively and professionally can be difficult to learn. Perhaps these sorts of performances will be lessons for the future.
Was the good start to the season a mirage? Are we seeing an average team get exposed the last few games? If not, what's going on?
Brent: The start of the season is not a mirage, it's a good representation of what this team is. They are able to get points in games that they weren't going to last year. The one worry I have about this team is the play of the center backs. Tommy Redding has done a great job adjusting to the starting role. Seb Hines had a great preseason but his positioning has been shaky. This team will need to absorb pressure and so far Joe Bendik has done that. The center backs' play will tell where this team will go.
Jeff: Maybe, but who knows? This answer may sound like a copout, but MLS teams have bad runs all the time. Last year, the New York Red Bulls won the Supporters' Shield but also had a run of five games without a win from May to June that included four losses in a row. Portland won the MLS Cup, but also had three different four-game runs without a win. Every team has a poor run at some point throughout the season. The good news for Orlando is that it is located on the East Coast, which gives the Lions the benefit of being in the weak Eastern Conference.
Daniel: We are seeing a team that has not defined their type of soccer yet. Last year we were the possession-oriented team. This year, we are not, which is seen by our 48% possession and low passing accuracy. The team needs to identify what type of football they want to play to move forward and start commanding the pitch.
Has the organization built a roster that is too reliant on a healthy Kaká, and, unlike last season, can this team get a win in New England without its captain this time around?
Jeff: Being reliant on a star is a pretty common way to build a team. No team in the league this side of Los Angeles has the kind of depth to overcome the loss of its best player (though the case could be made for Kansas City, which played better without Benny Feilhaber so far this year). Kaká missing games this year has been a major headline for Orlando City, but you can't really blame the organization for it. Injuries come with age, but blaming management for relying on an aging star is like blaming Orlando City for playing in MLS -- it's just how things are done in this league. The team can get a win without him in New England this week, but it'll need better play from Kaká's supporting cast in the midfield to do it.
Daniel: I actually believe the team is built to survive without Kaká. Unfortunately, the players who were brought in to help in those roles -- Nocerino and Baptista -- have not been effective so far and continue to be inconsistent.
Brent: This team does not have a central midfielder who can keep possession. If they do not have this piece in the lineup their play becomes direct and more reliant on set pieces. This team is at its best when Kaká is on the field. The Antonio Nocerino transfer was to hopefully fill that role, but unfortunately his play has been mediocre at best. I think this team has a small chance if Kevin Molino or Darwin Ceren can fill Kaká' s role as a possession-based midfielder.
The Lions travel to New England this weekend for a rematch with the Revolution, a team they thought they had beaten in the 92nd minute just a week and a half ago. What did they learn that they can use against the Revs Saturday?
Daniel: Keep possession and do not take your foot off of the gas pedal. After the first goal, Orlando seemed to play into a defensive shell at times and had a hard time gaining possession, stringing passes together, and going on the attack. Orlando is best when working together small passes, making other teams chase, and then making that dangerous run. But, so far this season, they have not dealt with high pressure well and until that is solved then we will continue to see lackluster performances.
Brent: Orlando City learned that Chris Tierney can be one of the most dangerous outside backs. The good news is he picked a hamstring strain against D.C. United and is questionable. They did fairly well keeping Lee Ngyuen away from goal. They need to not turn the ball over in the defensive third. This causes the defensive shape to be unprepared for the counter attack. The last thing they learned is the refereeing will be bad and they need to continue to play. The referee is something they can't control and they need to finish the opportunities they get and take the referee out of the match.
Jeff: Don't give up late goals. As our Brad Newton mentioned this week, Orlando City has lost more points in stoppage time than it has won, and that was certainly true against New England. This team needs to be clinical in closing games out, and hasn't been so far. It is fair to say that Orlando has gotten hosed by the refs (including the late penalty last time around against the Revs), but the team can't blame referees if it hopes to improve.
What decides the game on Saturday and who comes out on top? How does it all play out?
Brent: I don't see this team going on the road and winning without Kaká. Lee Ngyuen will control the midfield in Kaká's absence. New England will find the back of the net twice. Orlando will push in the second half, trying to find a goal and I think they might get one at the end. Final Score: New England 2 Orlando City 1.
Jeff: I say it'll be a 1-1 draw. New England has a knack for draws (six so far, which is most in the league) and Orlando will be happy to take a point on the road before returning home for a rematch with the Red Bulls. Orlando takes the lead in the first half, only to see New England tie things up around the hour mark.
Daniel: Possession and passing. Maybe that is too obvious, but Orlando needs to maintain possession and stop giving away the ball on simple passes in the midfield. We can all talk to specific match-ups, but Orlando has been playing well 1-v-1, but it has been the team that has been a bit out of sync. This Saturday I would love to say that OCSC will come away with points but the story so far is not pointing in that direction. Orlando loses 2-1 and continues to look for a spark.
The home opener was a success in all facets for the Orlando Pride. Despite a 3-1 win, there were plenty of nervy moments while the Dash attacked the net. It's easy to overlook the early exit of Houston's Carli Lloyd and just focus on the result, but now that we've had a couple of games (10% of their inaugural NWSL season) to see them in action, what should our realistic expectations be for the Pride this year?
Jeff: Based on the first two games, it's fair to say that Pride fans can expect this team to play entertaining games. Orlando is tied for first in the NWSL in goals scored (4), but is also tied for second in the league in goals conceded (3). In terms of results, realistically, contention for a playoff spot can be expected. Houston and Portland were the first two teams that missed the postseason last year, so playing competitively with those teams should be a harbinger for a positive first campaign.
Daniel: Fighting for the playoffs. This team is either as talented as or more talented than every team in NWSL. They have international talent in every third of the field and look dangerous. They may need some time to gel on the field and that will be an ongoing issue but there is no reason that this team cannot fight for and make the NWSL playoffs.
Brent: The realistic expectation for this team is mid-table. This team is not ready for the playoffs yet. Ashlyn Harris let this team off the hook with her excellent goalkeeping. The back line is not experienced enough to be in a top four playoff spot. This team is about growing and preparing for next year. Alex Morgan will bring excitement to the Camping World Stadium but it won't be enough to make the playoffs.
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And thus concludes your roundtable discussion for Week 8 as Orlando City prepares for a date with the Revs and the Pride head to Chicago to face Christen Press and the Red Stars.
Feel free to add your answers to the questions above or explain why our staff is right/wrong in their predictions or analysis in the comments section below.