WASHINGTON, D.C. — Orlando City has dropped three straight games since its 4-1 win in Montreal three weeks ago. The team has conceded 12 goals over those three games, and has scored just four times. The Lions' chances of making the playoffs are fading fast.
The overwhelming theme of the season for the Lions has centered around one thing: deficient defending.
Things were no different in Saturday night’s 4-1 loss to D.C. United, a team that Orlando City entered the game tied with in the standings. The loss puts did serious damage to the club's playoff push heading into Toronto next for a quick turnaround with the game on Wednesday.
"The problem seems pretty obvious — we’ve given up 12 goals in three games, so we continue to work," Head Coach Jason Kreis said after the match. "We’ve been working defensively since I got here. I thought we were moving in a very positive direction and then things went drastically wrong in the last three matches."
After trailing by a goal at halftime, the Lions gave up a pair of goals in the first 10 minutes of the second half to push the deficit to 3-0. That was all before Antonio Nocerino was shown a straight red and forced the club to play with 10 men through the final 35 minutes.
"The first goal was an indication of what’s wrong, and the second goal, I think, was similar — I think it’s just about covering and shifting for each other," Kreis said of the team’s defensive problems. "I think we didn’t do a good enough job of that. There’s too many gaps between our back four."
Kaká, who was subbed off after 64 minutes, says the team’s struggles on defense boil down to all 11 players on the field, not just the four defenders.
"We can not just talk about the four defenders, because when we talk about the defense we have to talk about the 11 players and the defensive system when something is wrong and not working the right way," the Brazilian captain said. "So we have to fix that as soon as possible because 12 goals in three games is a lot of goals."
Neither Kreis or Kaká are entirely sure where these performances are coming from based on what they've seen from the team out of training — positive, intense sessions — but wondered if emotions got the best of Orlando City after falling behind in the first half.
As the young guy, Mikey Ambrose, who earned just his second start and second consecutive appearance for Orlando, was a little more upbeat about the result than some of his older peers.
"We’ve just been making too many mistakes, all of us," he said. "We’re just going to learn from our mistakes and improve on this heading into the next game."
At this point, with just four games left on the schedule, Orlando City must make do with what it has on defense and hope it holds up enough until the end.
Slow Out of the Gates
Two goals in the first 10 minute out of halftime can put a team to rest before things really get into full swing. That’s just what happened to Orlando City. And it’s not just a one-time thing, according to Kreis, who sees this as a dangerous trend for his club.
"I think that every match I’ve been here, the second half we’ve started very, very poorly," he said. "I don’t know what it is. We’ve talked about it. We talk about it at halftime. We remind them, but it seems like every second half they come out and need to be woken up."
Like Kreis, Kaká couldn’t pinpoint why that problem exists on such a regular basis, but thinks it’s on he and his teammates to fix it, individually.
"I don't know. I don't know the right reason, but of course the first 15 minutes of the first half, and the first 15 minutes of the second half we are not focused and we lost concentration," he said. "Of course, everybody needs to think about themselves. I have my personal things that I have to change and I have to fix, but everybody needs to think about themselves."
"It's something we try to talk about," Kreis said. "But ultimately, it's on them to recognize when urgent situations come, and clearly right now the beginning of the second half is an urgent situation for us. We need to up the tempo, up our concentration, up our focus, up our effort level, and we need to make sure that we're not giving away two goals in 10 minutes."