Orlando City made league history on Saturday by becoming the first team in Major League Soccer to win its first four home matches to open a brand new stadium. The Lions did so by topping the LA Galaxy, 2-1, thanks to a stoppage-time goal from Cyle Larin.
Orlando City, which only won six of its 17 home matches in MLS last season, is already two wins shy of tying that mark after winning each of its first four at Orlando City Stadium. And, with four in their first two months, the Lions are already well ahead of their win pace from last season — it took the club until June 25 to win its fourth game of 2016.
There are plenty of things different about those two teams, of course, with a new coach and largely new cast of players taking the field each week. Things are looking up for the Lions, who are attempting to claim their first MLS playoff berth this season.
In the meantime, let’s take a look at what Orlando City did on the field on Saturday to deliver the victory.
The Starting Lineup
I was a bit surprised to see Jason Kreis stick with the diamond formation for this match with Matias Perez Garcia suspended for the week. Without him or Kaká, the Lions don’t have another player on the roster that can really run things at the top of the diamond.
But Kreis did it anyway — proving me wrong, like always — with Giles Barnes running the top. As FOX Sports commentator John Strong mentioned on the broadcast, Barnes spent a lot of time playing as the No. 10 of the diamond back in England early on in his playing days, meaning this was no unfamiliar role for him, even if we haven’t seen him do it much — if at all — in MLS.
Elsewhere on the field, Kreis made no changes to the rest of the lineup. Antonio Nocerino got the start after leaving last week’s match early with a calf strain, but showed no signs of the injury against LA, playing the full 90 minutes and again helping hold things down deep in the midfield.
Barnes Plays a Different Role Up Top
It’s tough to look at the stat sheet and say that Barnes had a good game at the top of the diamond, but that’s only because you really had to watch his performance to make any clear judgment on it.
Barnes only attempted 21 passes in the match, the third lowest total of all 11 starters, while completing just a tad over 85 percent of those passes.
But what he did best, and Kreis was also sure to point this out after the game, was take the ball and dribble into open space and straight at the Galaxy defenders, forcing them to commit to a course of action.
“When he gets on the ball, it’s important that he does what he does, which is run the ball out of space occasionally because we don’t have a lot of guys that can do that,” Kreis said of Barnes after the match. “When he runs the ball vertically towards defenders they have to make choices.”
Barnes’ contributions on defense can’t be overlooked, either. The former Houston Dynamo and Vancouver Whitecaps attacker has looked very comfortable under Kreis since joining Orlando City.
Containing Romain Alessandrini
Alessandrini has really been one of the only bright spots for the LA Galaxy in this young season, and he showed why again against the Lions on Saturday.
Donny Toia was given the tough task of having to contain the French winger, and I thought he did a really good job of not giving Alessandrini too much space and playing him tightly throughout the match, as you can see in his full defensive chart below. The team altogether, actually, I thought did a good job.
*(Green for tackles, orange for recoveries)
Right up until late in the match, maybe the last 20 minutes or so, Alessandrini started to move more centrally, which made things a little tougher on the Lions’ defense, and of course he eventually saw enough space at the top of the box to slip a shot through the back line and past Joe Bendik, moments after a wide open miss on the right side from roughly 10 yards in front of goal.
We didn’t see much out of Alessandrini until late, but when we did the Lions were forced to come up with answers for him.
What Needs To Change Next Match
The Lions are heading to Yankee Stadium next week for their second match-up of the season with New York City FC. Perez Garcia will be eligible to return for the match, and I have to wonder if we’re going to see Barnes put right back on the bench to start things out. I don’t think Kreis needs to change much heading into the match. He’ll probably want to see a little more offensive fire power being on the road, which means adding MPG to the lineup because he’s so good at doing things on both sides of the ball, and that’ll be important on the tiny field in the Bronx.