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Orlando City's Tactics Raise Questions About Flexibility

Orlando City's tactics did them no favors against Sporting Kansas City, and something needs to change to right the ship.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Home-field advantage is a very real thing in MLS. Through all MLS regular season matches last year, the home team won 53% of the time while the visitors walked away with all of the points only 25% of the time. If you were participating in "MLS Pick 'Em" and blindly selected the home club, with no knowledge of form or place in the table, you would have won easily over the course of the season; MLS's team of analysts and players could only manage 45% at best.

You could argue parity, but there is an overwhelming sense that playing at home is a distinct advantage. It makes sense. With the hours of travel on cramped flights to different time zones and climates, it taxes the players and creates a gulf in quality. Naturally, coaches would try and plan around this, bunker down and try to come away with a draw.

If you looked at the statistics from the Orlando City match against Sporting Kansas City, you could assume that the Orlando game plan was to sit back and allow the opposition to come forward and deal with the pressure. The Lions allowed an astounding 34 shots, were dominated in possession, and had barely any opportunities on offense. That could very well have been Adrian Heath and Mark Watson's plan, but the lineup does not mesh with that idea.

Personnel deficiencies didn't help. With Seb Hines out of the lineup due to injury and Cristian Higuita suspended, the defensive bite in the team was nonexistent. But there seemed to be no change in the lineup to compensate for the losses of Hines and Higuita, especially considering the formidable attacking trio of Brad Davis, Dom Dwyer, and Graham Zusi that SKC has at its disposal. This problem is compounded by Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos, who have both struggled to defend in the wide areas. With Luke Boden and Kevin Alston available and the incumbent fullbacks struggling in the defensive third, it begs the question of whether or not any change in tactics was considered.

The distinct lack of pace in the attacking side suggests that counter-attacking would have been difficult. Shea was the de facto offensive threat, but there seems to be no reason for him to have to come from the fullback position. Placing him in front of Boden or Alston would have allowed him to have fewer defensive responsibilities and he could have provided the same attacking outlet. An interesting omission was Adrian Winter, the Swiss spark that has been helpful off the bench and in the starting lineup. His pace and defensive ability on the wing were sorely missed as Zusi and Davis ran rampant up and down the field. But the lack of change on Sunday is only part of a larger problem. Personnel alone cannot be blamed for the six-week drought of results.

Seemingly each week, the opposition comes out with a high press to disrupt the Lions' passing attack. They push down the wings to avoid Darwin Cerén and Higuita and exploit the wide defense. Those are the keys to unlocking the Orlando City defense, and there is seemingly no adaptability from the City coaching staff to prevent teams from doing just that. Each week, Heath rolls out the same formation, the same players, the same playing style. That worked in the USL, where the Orlando teams were far more talented than the opposition. Now, with teams on a more regulated and level playing field, there is little that has proven the Lions can compete with nearly one third of the 2016 season in the books.

As the winless streak continues, something needs to change to get the team back into winning ways. The roster has been close to full fitness. You can say that Kaká or Higuita have been out for one reason or another, but even when the team is fully healthy and available, results still aren't coming. Perhaps changing the game plan is the next thing to try.