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How Has Orlando City’s Defense Fared Since Switching to the Diamond?

How Orlando has changed defensively since switching from the flat 4-4-2 to the 4-4-2 diamond this season.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Through seven games of Orlando City’s 2017 season, Head Coach Jason Kreis’ team has utilized two formations. The flat 4-4-2 midfield and the diamond 4-4-2 midfield. Both formations have their advantages and drawbacks, but for the Lions, one specific formation has provided a better defensive record than the other.

Through the first three games, Orlando ran with the formation it practiced with for much of the preseason, the flat 4-4-2. This formation provided wingers on either side of the pitch as well as two central midfielders in between. Will Johnson was pushed back to fullback and Servando Carrasco filled in the midfield with Antonio Nocerino. Matias Perez Garcia played as a right winger, while Giles Barnes was out wide left following the early injury to Kaká.

Looking at the formation from a purely defensive standpoint, the Lions allowed 34 shots on goal (11.3 shots per game), with only seven of them being on target, resulting in three goals.

Here’s a look at the shot charts from those games.

Courtesy of OPTA MLS

One thing that stands out from these charts is that a lot of the shots are coming from the left side, the side where temporary fullback Will Johnson was playing in defense. Of the 34 shots taken, 18 came from the left half of the field, which is more than half of the total shots taken.

After the Columbus game away from home, Scott Sutter became the starting right back, Johnson moved back into the midfield, Cristian Higuita replaced Carrasco in the starting lineup, and the team switched to the 4-4-2 diamond that it has been running for the past four games.

In terms of opponents shooting in that formation, the Lions have allowed 47 shots total, with 20 of them on target, resulting in only two goals.

Here are the shot charts from those games.

Courtesy of OPTA MLS

Looking at these four charts, the noticeable difference is that the shots coming from the wings have diminished and instead, most of the shooting from opposing teams is coming more centrally. The difference from the formation switch and the emergence of a true fullback in Sutter have forced most of the opponents’ chances to mostly come from between an 18-yard space.

The last four games have also resulted in many more shots from outside the 18-yard box. In the flat formation, only 10 shots were taken from outside the penalty area, but in the diamond formation, 18 shots were taken by opposing teams from distance.

Comparing the two formations is a bit tough when it comes to a multitude of factors, but the biggest takeaways from the switch are interesting. First, Scott Sutter coming in has absolutely revitalized the shape of the defense. Second, despite slightly more shots being taken against the diamond (11.8 per game), fewer goals have been scored. Of course, Joe Bendik is a big reason why that is the case, but the fact is with more shots coming from straight away, the easier it is for Bendik to read the shots coming in and the better positioning he can get to protect the goal.

The big tests will come this week to see how Orlando handles Toronto and their wing backs, then Houston and their own diamond midfield. At the moment, however, the diamond midfield is paying dividends for Jason Kreis and his defense.