A quick look at the MLS standings may suggest that Orlando City SC should have no trouble cruising past the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, since the Lions have won each of their four home games while the Pids are yet to get a single road point after three matches. However, the Western Conference’s last placed team has the potential to be a tough match-up for the Eastern Conference leaders.
It all starts with the fact that the Rapids arguably possess a better defensive system than all of the Lions’ previous opponents and should require considerable effort from the hosts to score. Last season, their defensive competency carried them all the way to the Western Conference finals as they conceded only 32 goals on the regular season and topped the league in this area.
In 2017, they have the sixth-most efficient defense in the League with nine goals conceded — alongside the New York Red Bulls — and are third in fewest shots per game (10.5), according to WhoScored.com
The Rapids achieved these numbers even with the absence of some important pieces, such as as departed midfielder Jermaine Jones, injured center back Axel Sjoberg, and fullback Marc Burch and defensive midfielder Sam Cronin — both traded to Minnesota United.
Against Orlando, the Rapids also won’t have suspended goalkeeper Tim Howard as well, leaving right back Eric Miller and center back Jared Watts as the only remaining players from their 2016 successful defensive system. In addition, defender Kortne Ford is suspended.
Colorado strongly relies on its defense to be competitive, especially on the road. When playing as visitors, the Rapids usually sit and wait for the home side to control the match, in the hope that a counter attack orchestrated by speedsters Marlon Hairston (see video below) and Dominique Badji or a set piece could lead them to a game-winning goal. It is for good reason that they lead the league in long balls per game (84) and are third in aerials won (17.2).
The Rapids do not need (or want) possession to execute their game plan and that’s how they can put Orlando in an uncomfortable position. The Lions achieved four of their five wins so far when having the ball on their feet for less time than their rivals — the 2-1 victory over the Philadelphia Union was the only exception, with OCSC recording 51.5% of possession, slightly over the 50.3% it had in its lone defeat so far, against Columbus Crew SC.
Playing at home, Orlando City will be forced to dictate the tempo and control possession. The Lions will have to be smart and very patient while moving the ball to avoid falling into Colorado’s trap and giving up a goal that would make things considerably more difficult.
Jason Kreis’ team will have to find a way to surprise the Rapids’ defense and put them off balance. A through ball, an individual play, or an unexpected forward run from one of the defenders or defensive midfielders could be enough to disrupt Pablo Mastroeni’s well organized back line.
Creating from the wings is also a good strategy against defensive teams as it stretches the players on the field and frees up more space in the final third. Given the fact that Scott Sutter and Donny Toia assisted on three of the last four goals Orlando scored, it makes sense that they have green light to bomb forward in this match.
Orlando City has definitely faced more talented teams than the Colorado Rapids so far, but on Saturday the Lions will be tested against a defensively solid and dangerous side, which can spell trouble if they fail to execute.