Last year, I talked about simple back four defending and how Orlando City did very well on the road against Salt Lake City after losing Kaká to a red card. This year, the back line has had its difficulties and most of the goals have come from the flanks with crosses or attackers cutting in.
The first situation is the 2-v-1 on the flank as seen above. The first role of the outside back is to never allow penetration into the center of the field. The outside back should pinch in and not address the outside attacker until after the ball is played to the outside.
Now, once the ball is played to the outside, the outside back has to track the outside attacker. If not, he will be able to cut inside and create a dangerous situation. The outside back will have to look to deny the cross in and try to close down the space as quickly as possible without over-committing.
The second goal for New England is very similar to this, except for one crucial detail -- Brek Shea doesn't pass his man off to Seb Hines, who should mark Juan Agudelo from the start. Shea is trying to deny the ball from coming into the center of the field, which is his first responsibility. If Hines comes over and takes the man, it gives Shea the freedom to come out and deny the outside run. This would have put Hines in better position for defending Agudelo.
When defending a cross you would ideally want the outside back to deny the cross. The nearest center back needs to come over and deny any near-post ball. He should be positioned just past the post so if he has to deflect or clear a ball, he can avoid putting it into his own net. The other two backs should be man marking with an emphasis on covering them ball-side/goal-side. This means they should be closer to the ball and the goal than the attackers.
This idea does expose a weakness for Orlando City if the weak-side defender is Rafael Ramos, as his height is a liability. All defenders should be positioned outside the 6-yard box, as any ball there should be the goalkeeper's responsibility.
The question most players bring up is the back-post area that is open now and not marked. This is true that there are no players over there to mark a potential attacker. The thing you have to remember is that for a ball to be played to the back post, it's going to take time for it to get there. This time should allow the keeper to slide over and be in good position to make a save and for the back line to slide and address the issue. This is where Ramos' liability turns into his strength. He has the ability to come out and close down the space quicker than any other OCSC defender. He just needs to delay to give additional time for his back four to realign and deny any cross, and possibly destroy or make the tackle on a player.
The problem on New England's goal is Seb Hines and David Mateos do not get in proper position, and the attacker is able to nip a ball into the net. Hines can see the run coming and is late to react; Mateos hasn't come over to cover the space directly in front of the net. If Hines does defend this well and the ball gets past them, Lee Nguyen is going to score because Mateos hasn't slid over enough to defend the heart of the goal.
The one thing to watch for in future games is the play of the center backs: Hines, Tommy Redding and Mateos. They need to recognize this fairly simple situation and come across and defend. The other item to look for is whether teams are able to take advantage of the overzealous Ramos as he comes out to address back-post runs.
Joe Bendik cannot be asked to continually make the saves he is making if this team is expected to be successful. The back line needs to continue to become more consistent with its play and work on its positioning for this team to make a run at the top of the table.