The Jason Kreis era has been underway in Orlando for two months now. The players have settled in, the team understands the expectations set for them, and the fans have gotten a long look at Kreis’s philosophy. Orlando City’s second-ever manager has already had his ups and downs with some big wins over conference rivals and some harrowing defeats to some of MLS’s finest, as well as some teams scrapping with the Lions for playoff position. With Orlando’s recent run of losses, it’s possible that Kreis’ honeymoon period is over as a portion of fans begin to speak out after watching their team concede four goals in three straight contests.
The statistics from Kreis’ first 10 matches in Orlando tell an interesting tale about how Orlando’s offense has functioned. The numbers are pretty consistent across the board when it comes to the offense’s efficiency. Through 10 games, the Lions have had the advantage in possession over almost every single team. The only time that they held the ball less than their opponent was against New York City FC, and they still managed 49.4%. They averaged 53.7% against teams like New England and Columbus, which generally dominate possession, and it’s a testament to the new-look defensive midfield that Kreis has installed.
The quick flip from the familiar Darwin Cerén and Cristian Higuita tandem to Kreis’ new preferred pair of Servando Carrasco and Antonio Nocerino was jarring, but has generally proved positive when it comes to keeping possession in the midfield. The team has lost one of its best back line protectors in Cerén, but the gradual transition to a roster dictated by Kreis’ system dictated that more so than a desire to lose that shield.
Carrasco and Nocerino have both performed admirably -- especially so in Nocerino’s case, given how poorly he looked in Adrian Heath’s midfield — and Kreis has rewarded them with starts in almost every match that they were available for. The only exception was that Carrasco was subbed on for the final 20 minutes of Kreis’ first tilt with Toronto FC in Orlando. But while Orlando City holds the ball for long stretches and intends to dictate its will on the opposition, it does not do much with that advantage.
The Lions have out-shot nearly every team under Kreis. They average 13 shots per game, with the high point being 20 shots against both Chicago and Columbus. The potential is seemingly there for the offense to explode every week, but the quality of shots isn’t there. The attacking quartet of Cyle Larin, Kaká, Kevin Molino, and Matias Perez Garcia is menacing on paper but the team is averaging only 4.5 shots on target every match. That’s just over one-third of all of their attempts. And that’s not shots saved, it’s shots that even threaten the goalkeeper. It’s troubling that they can dominate the midfield with technical ability just to build up to wayward opportunities.
The players manage to score on almost half of their shots on target — the team averages just under two goals per game — and when the offense is on, it runs riot. The team’s second-lowest number of shot attempts under Kreis is nine and those came against the Montreal Impact when his side netted four goals. When the quality of attempt is there, Orlando capitalizes. But unless the offense can improve its overall chance quality, it will be stuck with a low ceiling on its capability. And given recent events, that won’t be enough to keep the Lions in games.
Kreis ditched Heath’s center back duo of choice relatively quickly. It’s fair to say that Heath never had the opportunity to utilize José Aja, but the point is that Tommy Redding and Seb Hines have been relegated to the bench in lieu of Aja and David Mateos. In the beginning of Kreis’ tenure, Aja and Mateos looked like the answer to Orlando’s defensive woes. But they still allowed eight goals in their last two starts. The problem stems just as much from the sieve that is Orlando’s fullback situation, but the quick deterioration from allowing 1.6 goals per game through Kreis’ first five matches to an astounding 2.8 in his last five is more than cause for alarm. The swap to Mikey Ambrose over Luke Boden did not help against D.C. United and Rafael Ramos had similar problems before his injury.
If it seems as though it’s an Orlando City squad with very similar problems under Adrian Heath, that’s because it is.
Aja has not magically fixed the defense and it’s still a transitional period for the Lions. Kreis is essentially working with a hand-me-down roster, albeit with some great pieces. What could be a major difference, which is not entirely dictated by statistics, is Kreis’ results. While Heath sat back and played for draws, Kreis has not been as complacent. In just 10 matches, Kreis has just one fewer win than Heath had in 20, but he also has just as many defeats. The trade-off of not playing for draws in most matches is naturally a boom-or-bust scenario. It’s not to say that Kreis never plays for draws, as we saw with the 0-0 in Colorado, but there is an inherent aggressiveness to the team.
But the idea that these are all signs of what is to come under Jason Kreis in Orlando is still up in the air. These things can be inferred through observation but they are just general concepts and trends still. Until he has an opportunity to make changes with the makeup of the team, it’s difficult to say which direction he will take the club. Seemingly, if he can patch the defense together and fine tune the offense, this roster already has the makings of a winner.