Orlando City returned to MLS action, last night against San Jose on an emotional night in the City Beautiful. Before we dive into the stats this weekend, I wanted to say thanks to the front office and community for coming together and providing a well deserved outlet for a city that is in mourning. The support is resounding and hopefully well received by all.
After looking Orlando's playoff chances, and how valuable Cyle Larin and Kevin Molino are to the attack, today we'll talk a bit more about how Orlando is playing this year. A few weeks ago, Sunday Statistical Showdown broke down the type of play that the Lions have been exhibiting this season, particularly a more direct style that has led to a lack of high pressure when compared to 2015 and I would like to expound upon that today.
Specifically, we'll talk about the areas on the pitch that Orlando has been taking advantage of, perhaps some reasons why, and how that could affect the season going forward. So, lets jump in.
First off, what is an action zone? An action zone in soccer is basically just the pitch itself broken into thirds. There is the team's defensive third, which is where the team of interest is defending (orange); the middle third, considered the midfield, where teams fight for possession (yellow) and build up into the attack; and, finally, the attacking third, which represents play where the team of interest is operating with or pressuring a team in their defending third (green).
The chart above gives a view where we can see at 100% of play for any MLS team and where that possession and action is taking place. Orlando finds itself in the attacking third action zone at a 25% clip, which is well below the league average of 28%, and actually second worst in MLS, behind only the vaunted Chicago Fire. On the premise of controlling the ball and playing in the opposition's defending third, otherwise known as Orlando's attacking third, we seem to have a bit of work to do and this could lead back to the conversation we referenced earlier about how Orlando is playing more directly, with less high pressure in 2016.
Another issue shown by an action zone look is that the Lions are also below the league average in the middle third, where the possession battle takes place -- meaning that teams would be operating in Orlando's defending third more than average.
Some may point out that action zones do not tell the whole story and it is true that they are only a piece of the puzzle, but currently Orlando is operating on a -5% attacking action zone differential. This would bring about more opportunities for Orlando's opponents to provide high pressure and hold possession in Orlando's defending third.
Not to exacerbate the issue, but considering Orlando has played two more games at home this season, the idea of these numbers changing drastically without either a change in formation, style of play, or really improving performance is not going to happen, meaning a natural ebb and flow of these action zone percentages may have evened out over time if discounting the fact that Orlando has been playing with home field advantage more often than not.
However, there is hope. Over the past few matches, Orlando has done a better job of holding possession and has been looking to press higher up the field to not only open up more chances but also be more dangerous while causing issues for the opponent.