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Sunday Statistical Showdown: Is Orlando Playing More Direct This Season?

Looking at indirect and direct forms of play with Orlando and other MLS clubs there seems to a bit of difference in how Orlando is playing this year compared to 2015.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando may be in the thick of things in the East and the season is still young, but we are now a third of the way through the season and sitting on 14 points. Is this a good thing? Maybe. Is it a bad thing? Probably. Not only does this team have the talent and depth to make a playoff run, but it also has the leadership on the field.

Then what could be the problem? Here is where people would clamor for a change in the lineup, perhaps playing a 4-3-3, a 4-4-2 or some other concoction would help Orlando define who it is. Then there will be those people who say we need to bring in more players in certain positions, which is an argument for any team as you can always get better at a position or two while adding depth. We may even hear the grumblings of a coaching change, some small groups have called for the sacking of Adrian Heath, let us all not jump to this conclusion as this team would be best served doing something more organic in nature.

Last year we saw a team that led the league in direct passing attempts. The work done by American Soccer Analysis (ASA) defines what direct play means in comparison to indirect play as teams being either proactive (indirect) and reactive (direct). In the soccer world, being known as a direct team means that you like to play the ball directly towards goal, either through long passes up the field or in a direct line to goal. This is in contrast to a team that plays an indirect style which works the ball around the field, looking for openings and uses short passes not always directly at goal to unlock a defense.

Neither is necessarily better than the other but it does allow a team to play a specific style and understand who they are. This year we have seen a drop in the type of indirect or proactive play from Orlando. This can be seen in the next two figures with the 2015 season coming first followed by Orlando through nine matches in the 2016 season (from the ASA site).

Looking at the 2015 season above we can see that Orlando is highly defined as a team that plays an indirect style of soccer, they do not pressure as high as the average team and allow play to be fluid but most certainly are defined through there short and high amount of indirect passes. Now let us look at the 2016 season below.

Look more towards the middle to find Orlando this year, is this indicative of them now playing a more direct game, some would argue that, but it is drastically different from the 2015 season and sees Orlando fall back into the rest of the MLS pack. Most people would expect and even some hoped for more direct play this year as at times in the 2015 season Orlando seemed to have loads of possession but too many passes never having effective offensive pressure.

This year we can see Orlando trying to define what type of team it will be, will it be the indirect play we saw dominate the 2015 season or a combination of indirect and direct. We cannot hold out the fact that this can also be a natural movement with the growth of the hold up play from Cyle Larin and the lack of possession this year from Orlando, both of those could have played a role into where Orlando finds themselves. Most importantly though I believe Orlando needs to find where the team is comfortable and hopefully that will lead to confidence and wins.