Orlando City is coming off an away win in New York City. To repeat, an away win in New York City! Three points in the bag and that feeling of under-performing on the road suddenly dissipated.
The Lions are in a groove and you can officially say that groove has blossomed into something more than just a tough home team — now City is just a tough team. The development of the squad has been great to watch, and one thing in particular that is standing out is the play of the Orlando City fullbacks.
Donny Toia and Scott Sutter have been outstanding in the run of play. The benefits of them playing at a top level are pushing Orlando City to the top of the league and, along the way, putting all other teams on notice.
A good outside back is more than just a good defender — they are a contributor on offense, too. For the Lions, they have two players that are exactly that — good defenders and good players going forward. Attacking with eight players is a lot more difficult to defend than the typical six. When eight players are sent forward it feels like defenses are not only absorbing a lot of pressure but seemingly have attackers coming from all directions.
Between Sutter and Toia, the two have combined for eight key passes on this season — an impressive figure for defensive players at this point in the year. Furthermore, three of those eight key passes have turned into assists.
In last weekend’s game against NYCFC, the first goal came about because of two things. The first was patience and the second was the fact that Sutter opened up the defense by pushing himself wide. This goal came after the Lions’ defense was absorbing a lot of pressure from NYCFC, which should speaks volumes of the development of the team overall. The combination of patience and intelligence on Sutter’s part helped Orlando take the lead.
One thing to always keep in mind is that if you get the ball to Cyle Larin anywhere near the 6-yard box, the likelihood of him scoring is very high. In this instance Sutter got wide, worked a perfect give-and-go with Carlos Rivas, made a great run, and assisted Larin on a perfect pass into the 6-yard box.
The second goal was much of the same. Toia absorbed a pass as he got his heels to the sideline (like a good winger/outside back should do), then beat the first defender with a touch forward and sent the ball into where? You guessed it, the 6-yard box with Larin waiting and ready to pounce like a Lion — and he did just that. Larin scored a header goal after fending off his defender, and Toia walked away with his first assist of the season.
Giving this pairing of outside backs the freedom to move up and down the sidelines of the field is starting to cause major problems for opposing teams. Having those extra options in attack and having players that can spread the defense are major positives for the Orlando attack and the evidence lies in the NYCFC game.
This strategy is not by accident, either. The formation that Head Coach Jason Kreis uses is made specifically for these tactics. Fullbacks need to push themselves up the field and stay wide. Within the diamond set-up you will find a congested midfield at times — the way to rid that congestion is to flank.
While there are many different things that contribute to a team having a successful season, one of those is the play and chemistry of your defense. With each game that passes, the level of ability and the chemistry on the Lions’ back line seems to increase. If Joe Bendik and Jonathan Spector have been the engine, then Toia and Sutter have been the oil. They are helping this back line run cleanly and smoothly, and it is making for great soccer.
The Colorado Rapids are next on the OCSC hit list. With a home game against a Rapids team that sits dead last in the West, the expectation should be a win for Orlando as it sits alone at the top of the Eastern Conference table.
Will Larin be important? Yes. Will Bendik and Spector be important? Yes. But every bit as important as those individuals will be the play of Sutter and Toia. Look for them both to be heavily involved if the Lions are to be successful against Colorado this Saturday.