Wednesday night’s clash with the City of Brotherly Love was yet another game that Orlando City fans feel they could've easily been celebrating. As the Lions squared off against the conference leaders, the game opened with a dominant Orlando City team. Though they didn't create a bevy of chances with their stifling 66% possession, the Lions didn't allow for a top Philadelphia side to create a lot of chances either.
Every counter was met with a fair but crunching tackle that returned possession to Orlando. Although neither side registered any serious cracks at goal, Orlando certainly held control of the game. However, the second half was a different story. The Lions suffered from a variety of poor passes that allowed for the Union to get themselves back into the game, and eventually they capitalized. Though Orlando did well to get themselves back into the contest, and even took the lead, the concession of silly goals cost them the game.
Not much bad can be said about Orlando’s first-half performance, aside from the missed penalty. Orlando held possession very well and didn't fall prey to laziness when holding an exorbitant amount of possession. The players moved dynamically and tried to shift the back line in any way they could. Kaká continually tried to link up with Carlos Rivas on the left wing, but they didn't seem to be on the same page on more than a few occasions.
Without Kevin Molino on the field, Kaká is Orlando’s primary creative outlet and his tenacity to try and make it work with Rivas may have held the Lions back from getting a different look, either centrally or with someone like Winter, but the Brazilian wasn't at his best in the first half. Still, City’s performance was solid and something that it should've built on going into the second half. The operative word being 'should.'
Orlando failed to build on the first half because of poor passing out of the back. All of a sudden, Cristian Higuita and Servando Carrasco found it difficult to make a good passing decisions and gave away the ball in incredibly dangerous areas. This is where the 4-2-3-1 for Orlando City exposes itself. The issue with the formation is that sometimes it can lack a link between defense and attack.
The 4-2-3-1 calls for a ball carrier or adequate passer to make the transition from the back to the front. In the first half it was Higuita, which is why we saw solid possession. The team was linked together by his passing and ball carrying ability, and had it not been for a relatively poor individual performance from Kaká, Orlando might have seen a few more chances created. The Colombian’s inability to translate his first half performance into the second half is the cause for the chances created by Philadelphia, and Orlando’s poor defensive organization was the culprit for the two rather cheap goals conceded.
This ‘link’ player is usually one of the two midfielders that sit in the ‘2’ of the 4-2-3-1. With Higuita missing the next game due to a yellow card suspension, it offers Antonio Nocerino a unique opportunity to play himself into the team. As stated before, Orlando often lacks someone who can bridge the gap between the front four and the back four. Someone like Nocerino, who holds solid passing ability, can play that role and put the ball at the feet of Orlando’s best creators.
Molino’s impact was immediate and had a far greater implication that just the goal. Since he’s such a technically gifted midfielder with the IQ to cause any opposition problems, he was able to link up well with Kaká and give him another option. Molino can play on either side of the number 10 due to his pace, but also possesses the quality to come inside and create. The danger that he has on the field in drawing opposition players is what helped lead to the second goal. Despite his late-game miss, Orlando should look to incorporate the Trinidad and Tobago native into the starting lineup as opposed to someone like Rivas, who only offers a limited attacking option.
However, the main issue is defensive organization. The way in which City conceded was purely down to the lack of communication that is evident even in open play. Often times, City’s defenders can get crowded in one area and sucked towards the ball. Although they may not have conceded from open play in this game, the lack of a defensive leader will continue to hamper the Lions.
No formational change will alleviate the fact that Orlando looks lost while defending at times, and it isn't the quality of defender that’s the issue either. Someone needs to command the back line and tell the players what their job is, rather than getting caught ball watching. If Orlando City can get a player to be the coach on the field and organize the defense, fewer goals will be conceded. The Lions are no slouches going forward; it's simply a case of shoring up the defense that will make them a real contender in the near future.