Though it wasn't new Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis' first match in charge, it was his first real chance to see what this team can do against an opponent that represents the level of quality they'll be going up against in Major League Soccer. The friendly against Stoke City was a good opportunity to see who can shine in certain conditions, but realistically it didn't give an accurate representation of a variety of different variables.
Many have spoken about Kreis' preferred 4-4-2 diamond formation and how he may implement it with this Orlando City squad, but the Lions rolled out their classic 4-2-3-1 formation over the weekend against a relatively in-form New England team. Kreis seemed to use this first competitive game at the helm as a diagnostics test to see what could specifically be wrong with the old system.
Oftentimes under Adrian Heath, it wasn't the formation that lost the game, it was a shortcoming within the formation.
Defending was a serious problem that didn't seem to be getting any better -- something that Kreis himself has stated is the focus so far. Orlando City players would consistently lose shape and fall prey to bunching up when defending, allowing opposing teams to expose this positional indiscipline easily through intelligent passing or individual skill. Set pieces were also a persistent problem with players being left unmarked to an almost embarrassing extent.
However, it wasn't all bad under the old regime. OCSC has rarely had issues going forward, scoring 35 goals thus far, only five shy of Eastern Conference leaders NYCFC. Orlando had made some intelligent moves for certain players and, as a new franchise, it had laid claim to some excellent attacking football, something not every young team can. So even though many of us can be easily stuck in the mire of Orlando City's consistent loss-or-draw negativity, Kreis has seemingly observed what was obvious from an outside perspective; this is a good team, it just needs a little tweaking.
Of course, this is all speculation.
Kreis has given no indication that he'll continue to deploy the 4-2-3-1 formation or any other tactical specifics regarding the future for that matter. Yet, it is our job in the media to speculate, and speculate we shall. The use of the 4-2-3-1 formation, in my opinion, means that Kreis wants to see how well this team can do, both defensively and offensively, after the players have been coached by him. Rather than implementing an entire system overhaul, the new manager seems to want to see firsthand what works and what doesn't -- an extremely positive sign that lines up well with what we already know about the former RSL and NYCFC coach.
Kreis made a low-budget, young RSL franchise into serial playoff contenders because of his management style and tactics. He did this without concern for buying up league stars or centralizing a big name around his ideas, something he was almost forced to deal with at NYCFC. The less unnecessary change, the better. Less player turnover, less fan discomfort and, in most cases, less money wasted.
From a tactical perspective, the 3-1 result against New England was an ideal start for Kreis and his staff. It showcased the defensive errors Orlando City is prone to but also displayed the way in which the Lions are most prosperous going forward. Hadji Barry, Kevin Molino, Kaká, and Cyle Larin were all visibly given freedom across the front line, something that clearly paid dividends. All of the forwards' movement was dynamic and allowed for the creation of a lot of chances. This philosophy of play is something that Kreis and his managerial team should pursue moving forward, as coaches like Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti have been noted for their allowance of creative freedom, which has not only given them success on the field but has also fostered a happy relationship with their mercurial forwards off the field.
As far as the impact Kreis has already made, the defending was certainly better. The goal was due to a complete lack of pace from the Orlando City back line combined with some individual brilliance from a talented forward in Kei Kamara, but the majority of the chances that Orlando City did concede were because of some poor passing out of the back. The connection between the back line and the attacking midfielders was an experimental partnership, but one that shouldn't be used again, largely because the link-up play between the two (by the "2" in the 4-2-3-1) wasn't good enough.
Expect to see more experiments if Kreis continues to use the 4-2-3-1. The fullbacks also weren't fantastic, specifically Luke Boden, so expect the most transfer action to be in that position.
All in all, it's most likely too early to tell if this is what we should expect from the new coach and his managerial team, but it's certainly a great start.