Jason Kreis is synonymous with the diamond midfield during his time in Real Salt Lake. He toyed with other formations, from the 4-2-3-1 to the 4-3-3 to the flat 4-4-2 that Orlando City used for its first three matches. But now he’s back to his old ways with two wins from two games after switching to the diamond. With Kreis’ old club, New York City FC, on the docket for this weekend, he’s set himself up to test his tried-and-true methodology against his former employers.
Since implementing the diamond against the New York Red Bulls, Orlando City’s style of play noticeably changed. Giles Barnes and Matias Perez Garcia no longer occupy the wide areas of the midfield, instead Will Johnson and Cristian Higuita carry more responsibility in the box-to-box roles. The trade-off is a narrower shape that focuses on staying compact in the midfield and surrendering those wide areas to the opposition. As you can see from this image of Orlando’s positioning and pass network from the LA Galaxy match — courtesy of MLSSoccer.com’s Armchair Analyst Matt Doyle — Kreis’ diamond stays as compact as possible.
The midfielders, on average, stay tight to the center circle and close to the defensive line, asking the fullbacks to provide width. Part of this has been due to the amount of pressure the Lions have absorbed, grinding out single-goal victories and taking on a lot of chances from the opposition. The diamond generally limits success through the middle, forcing teams to attack the fullbacks in Scott Sutter and Donny Toia, who has done an excellent job locking down the left flank.
It’s worked for the Lions so far, but on a pitch as wide as Orlando’s — which at 9,000 square yards is among the biggest in the league — it leaves a lot of green space and attacking lanes for teams that like to play wider.
The following images depict the successful passes and dribbles against Orlando from the matches against the Red Bulls and Galaxy in Orlando’s defensive half; these provide telling insight into where Orlando is surrendering ground in favor of the centralized midfield. Opposition successes are clustered in the far corners, hoping to break down the City defense with crosses that often miss their mark.
The Red Bulls found their success utilizing the right-hand side of the field, while the Galaxy largely exploited the left. In both cases, the diamond largely stifled anyone trying to come through the middle.
This coming weekend, however, Orlando City’s newfound shape could give the team a slight advantage against New York City FC given that Yankee Stadium is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Orlando City Stadium. The spacial restrictions in Yankee Stadium only allow for an incredibly narrow pitch at 70 yards wide, the smallest in the league by three yards with the next smallest being the Houston Dynamo’s BBVA Compass Stadium. And while expansion team Minnesota United’s temporary home at TCF Bank Stadium might technically be the same width, there has been some scrutiny that New York City has actually exaggerated its numbers.
Peter Vermes has said the field is as small as 68 yards by 106, which would put it at a meager 7,208 square yards or just 80 percent the size of Orlando’s field. But even at its largest measurements, Yankee Stadium is 1,300 square yards smaller than the Lions’ home. That means a lot less ground to cover for the central midfielders and drastically smaller channels for attackers. It should also play to the strengths of Cristian Higuita and Will Johnson; their tireless work rate, coupled with the languishing legs of NYCFC star Andre Pirlo, may indicate a recipe for success this Sunday. After all, Orlando already did well to keep New York City FC’s potent offense off the board earlier this season in a decidedly less-defensive shape. Now, Orlando’s midfielders are getting healthy and accustomed to the system. Wide attackers in Rodney Wallace and Jack Harrison will still provide a threat, but the tight confines of the pitch in the Bronx should make life easier for Sutter and Toia.
The Lions got another boon in the loss of Ronald Matarrita for the home side, who suffered an ankle injury and will miss this weekend’s contest. The marauding fullback has already provided three assists this year, and his absence should further handicap New York City’s presence on the flanks.
With NYCFC’s narrow midfield trio going head-to-head with Orlando’s new diamond, both teams will be looking for space that just isn’t there on the wings. The Lions could, and should, be happy to stay compressed and sit back and defend. Winning on the road in MLS is notoriously difficult and Orlando struggled to create on its only other away trip this season.
Kreis’ extensive experience playing in Yankee Stadium is also a big help; he has game-planned to win on the smaller pitch countless times. With a motivated manager returning to the club that arguably released him too soon, there has to be some added desire to beat the Sky Blues in their own building. Both sides are improved from their clash nearly two months ago, and it will be interesting to see how Orlando adapts to the radical changes.