Coming into the Columbus Crew match on Saturday, Orlando City Assistant Coach CJ Brown, a former defender in MLS for 12 years and in charge of Orlando's back line under Jason Kreis, spoke about his team's defense coming off the loss in Los Angeles. He mentioned that some of the lapses in the defense could be attributed to "mental breakdowns," and that the team would need to have a better mental fortitude going into the Columbus match.
Going into the match, Brown also talked about how the Lions needed to approach the Crew in terms of defensive shape.
"What's most important is our communication and our organization of our back line," he stated. "We don't want to start chasing guys all over the place, because once you start chasing them another guy pops in that hole and if he does than you're in big, big trouble. So, the communication between the center backs and the outside backs has to be key because with Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay coming in, then to break out wide, it could be very confusing. As an outside back, you want to come and put the pressure on and then when he spreads out wide, you're thinking 'Oh, I got to cover that or maybe the center back can cover.' It's going to be very challenging, but I think that if our communication is on point and we're really talking ahead of time, we can cut out a lot of those plays."
All of this was said before the 4-1 drubbing that Orlando took on Saturday and almost all of what the defensive assistant coach said they needed to be aware of, ended up happening in the game.
Two of Columbus' first-half goals came on similar situations: Ball sent through, splits the defense, 2-on-1 break, and an easy goal for the Crew. From a glance, this looks to be exactly what the team was preparing for, but the back line still couldn't stop it.
The lack of communication from the center backs and outside backs was evident, especially on the first goal. Finlay and Meram, players that Brown specifically mentioned before the game for the defense to watch, split right through the middle of the back line. Finlay broke away from Luke Boden coming inside, while Meram got behind both Kevin Alston and Tommy Redding. The miscommunication came when not only was the line pressed too high up the pitch, but Alston and Redding were both on Meram and it looked like each of them thought the other one was marking him. On the other side, Seb Hines was coming back to help with Finlay after Boden was beaten for pace by the Columbus winger.
This came after a week of practice and preparation in training for that exact situation. Brown even acknowledged that a few of these plays would end up happening, but it was important that, "the next part of that, the second phase of that, is how well do we defend the box...the late runs coming from, whether it's Meram or [Mohammed] Saeid or whoever they have coming through the middle, would be the next thing we have to mark and that's the second center back has to be firm in seeing when that run comes through."
Needless to say, Orlando City prepared for the Crew in training, but somewhere along the way, it didn't translate into the actual match. This game hurts the Lions' playoff chances, but it also must gnaw at the coaching staff even more. Having prepared for the situations and still letting up those exact goals, really has to sting.