Last week, Orlando City played three games in eight days. In addition to the short rest between games, the Lions also traveled nearly 3,000 miles. Add in the difficulty of winning on the road, and it is not a surprise that Orlando City was fatigued by the end.
This draining schedule led Orlando City to just three points and being outscored, 6-3. By the end of the last game, fullbacks Donny Toia and Scott Sutter had no chance of keeping up against the speed of Houston’s attackers.
In the next few weeks, Orlando City faces a similar situation. Starting with the Sporting Kansas City game this weekend, the Lions will play five games in 18 days, traveling about 8,000 miles over that span. That averages close to a game every three and half days, and 1,600 miles between each game. With fatigue no doubt becoming an issue, will the Lions play another game like the disaster in Houston?
If things stay as they are, then yes, the team will be gassed by the end of the month and have another poor performance or two.
The issue for Orlando City lies with the fullbacks. Rafael Ramos and Kevin Alston are out with injury, and PC hasn’t impressed in his USL starts, and so currently may not have the trust of Jason Kreis. That leaves Sutter and Toia as the fullbacks. They could put Will Johnson in the back again, but nevertheless, the defenders will be tired, as Orlando asks a lot from the team’s fullbacks.
On Saturday, that was what Houston went straight after. They ran Sutter and Toia out of the park. Adding that Jonathan Spector was out and Joe Bendik let in a couple of weak goals, you get the 4-0 scoreline.
But José Aja and Tommy Redding played well for the most part, and the three center backs have proven that any combination of the three will be effective. The fullbacks need to get up and down the line in Kreis’ system, but with a congested schedule they should stay back more to help with the fatigue near the end of the month.
There also needs to be more work with the defensive midfielders. Regardless of who is playing this position, they need to be fully rested. This means expect to see much movement in that position over the next 18 days. Whether it is Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco, or Cristian Higuita, fatigue should not be an issue for the holding midfielder. When the fullbacks start to slow down, they need to slide in and help protect the back line. This goes for any game, but it is even more essential with many tired legs.
Something that Kreis has tried to instill in the Lions is team defending and in a tough, congested schedule it is more important than ever. Players need to work together, communicate, and not leave any stone unturned when defending. The leadership of Spector, Johnson, and Kaká is vital here.
On Saturday, Johnson could be seen directing his teammates the entire game. With Spector out, Johnson dropped back at times to make sure his team was in shape and dishing out commands; this was especially noticeable on set pieces. This is where Kaká and Spector become invaluable members of the team.
With a tough schedule coming, the Lions will need to make some changes to avoid another blowout. To stop it, they need to work together as a team and help each other out. Constant communication and player rotation is a must, but fatigue could again be a factor by the end of May.