Defense was Orlando City SC’s Achilles’ heel in 2016. For this reason, the Lions added some new faces to strengthen their back line to prepare for the 2017 Major League Soccer season. City’s new defensive formation was tested against MLS teams for the first time last week and, even though the numbers weren’t actually good, it is not time to worry about it yet.
Last week, Orlando City played scrimmages against two MLS Eastern Conference rivals, Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC. When the Lions met the Union, City played out a 3-3 draw. Orlando went on to lose 3-1 to the Canadian club.
It is obvious to notice that Orlando City conceded three goals in each match, which is definitely not a good start. These numbers can also make you think that, regardless of the personnel moves, the team’s defense will still be bad.
However, this is not the case as some factors need to be considered before jumping to early conclusions. Take into account certain elements and understand why the Lions’ back line should improve a lot as the season goes on:
Fitness is a Factor
One of the most important things in preseason is preparing the players for the long and exhaustive MLS season ahead of them. That means a heavy schedule of physical training sessions, which often cause the players to have tired legs in the end of the first matches of the year.
That seems to be exactly what happened last Saturday, when Orlando City conceded two goals against Toronto FC in the last minutes of the match. It is also important to remember, as Jonathon Spector told the Orlando Sentinel, that it was their third match in only six days.
“We were definitely fatigued toward the end, third game in a week. . . . But at the same time, I think that’s when our concentration levels have to be at their highest. We had a lapse in concentration, more mental mistakes than anything else and we need to eradicate that,” Spector said.
Another factor to consider is that the Philadelphia scrimmage was 135 minutes — not the usual 90. The third Union goal was conceded in the 125th minute.
Chemistry will Improve
Regardless of who starts at left back - PC or Donny Toia - Orlando City’s back line has never played together before. More than that, from the presumed starting group, only Rafael Ramos and José Aja shared the field before, but only for the two final matches of the 2016 season.
With the first official matches scheduled for the upcoming weeks, the team’s chemistry is expected to improve quickly. It will be also important establishing an effective communication system between players, as there are English, Spanish and Portuguese speakers in the group. That will help reduce the number of mistakes committed.
The first weeks of the season are especially important for the newcomers. Both Spector, who played in England his entire career, and PC, who has never competed in MLS before, will have to adjust to the different tactics and style of play.
The Midfield Needs Adjustments
In 2016, Orlando City’s back line was usually shielded by Cristian Higuita and Servando Carrasco, two defensive-minded midfielders who excelled at their jobs. Higuita averaged 3.4 tackles and 2.1 interceptions last year, while Carrasco recorded two tackles and 1.8 interceptions every match.
This year, the keys to the Lions’ box belong to Antonio Nocerino and Will Johnson. While the former averaged 1.7 tackles and 1.4 interceptions for the club last year, the latter averaged 2.3 tackles and 1.1 interceptions playing for Toronto FC in 2016.
Even though their numbers are not as good as Higuita’s and Carrasco’s, Nocerino and Johnson can succeed in their roles. Both are veteran and experienced players who just need time to figure out the best way of getting the job done under Head Coach Jason Kreis’ system.