It seems as though some of the calls from the interwebs have waned. The boys in purple have scored five in the last two matches, and our own Cyle Larin has three goals in the last four matches. Dom Dwyer, his new partner in Jason Kreis’ two-striker formation, had a brace and an assist in his last match at Atlanta United, as well as an assist in the win against D.C. United.
Is this the beginning of a beautiful friendship? Are we seeing the fruits of having two true strikers up top? Is the addition of Dom making Cyle a better striker? I think the answer is yes, and here is why.
Let’s look into the way-back machine for a minute, all the way to June 30. This date may be blurry to some, but this was Orlando City’s last win before September, the club’s last win before the trade deal that brought Dom Dwyer home, and a road match to Kreis’ old stomping grounds of Rio Tinto Field and a date with Real Salt Lake.
Will Johnson scored in the 17th minute, and the Lions held on for the win in a match that saw RSL hold 61% possession and out-shoot the Lions 12 to 7. It was not a pretty match to watch. Kreis played a flat 4-4-2 that game, matching Cyle up top with Giles Barnes, with Kaká, Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Higuita, and Johnson behind them. Below is the chalkboard of Cyle’s output from that match.
Cyle did see the ball a number of times, including a couple shots and a key pass, but most of his passes went backwards. He also seemed to be fairly static to his starting side of the pitch. It was a win, but it was not a pretty win. Now let’s fast forward a bit, shall we?
The Lions had now gone two solid months with no wins, only picking up two points. The transfer window was open, and Orlando City brought in some fresh new faces. The key among those is obviously Dom Dwyer for this discussion, but also Yoshimar Yotun and Dillon Powers.
The match day lineup was never consistent, due to multiple issues that need not be discussed here, which always created problems as far as I am concerned. Build-up play, especially in the middle third, requires consistent play from consistent players. Knowing how and when a teammate likes to make runs, knowing how to lead a teammate on a pass, and understanding how your teammate attacks the give-and-go are all predicated on a relatively consistent starting XI, something the Lions did not have during that time frame, but then we hit September.
Admittedly, September did not start out as we as hoped, as the Lions were thrashed by the New England Revolution, 4-0. It is my opinion that this was the catalyst for the change in form that we are currently witnessing, and served as a giant wake-up call for our boys in purple. The next two matches saw a fairly consistent starting XI, save for a few names due to suspensions, but the front five were effectively unchanged. During the D.C. United match, Larin was all over the pitch as can be seen by below:
I’m not trying to focus on completed vs. non-completed passes, but just look at the touches overall and where they occurred. Larin is drifting all over the attacking third. He is now able to comfortably shift his side of attack with Dom. They worked together, made runs, switched fields, and kept the D.C. United CBs guessing all match. Sure, I am neglecting some possible contributing factors here like Yoshi and Barnes playing very well behind them, but Larin was not playing as just a target striker. You could see the chemistry was building, especially with Dom, very early in the match, leading to the 19th-minute goal by Larin on a beautiful assist by Dwyer.
Let’s move forward in time just a bit more, to the last match, against the new kids on the block, Atlanta United (you know, that team just hours north of us that everyone, especially MLS, hopes becomes our bitter rivals).
Let’s be honest, Mane Landers, we were all worried about the result going into this one. Atlanta United is a dangerous team, they were playing in front of a record-setting crowd, and the expected outcome was not favorable towards OCSC. It was always going to be a match where Orlando City needed to maintain possession (it only managed 38%) and spread Atlanta out, find those passing lanes, make those runs, and take advantage of a defense that has had its issues this season. It was a back-and-forth battle all match long, but one thing that stood out to me was how uncomfortable the pairing of Dom and Larin made the back line of Atlanta all match.
Take a look at the touch chart below:
Although he did not have as many touches as in the previous match vs. D.C. United, you can still see Larin was everywhere. Now if we look at the combined map of Dom and Cyle:
Now you can begin to see the overlaps. They were not just trying to position themselves in space, they were actively playing off each other to make space, using each other to spread or condense the space between the Atlanta center backs and create chances and running lanes, leading to three goals. Can you remember the last time OCSC scored three or more goals in a match? It has only happened one other time this season, on June 17 in a home match against the Montreal Impact — another 3-3 draw that saw Jonathan Spector secure the tie in the 94th minute.
I understand that I am leaving certain variables out here, but those variables — like who is the best option for the No. 10 spot going forward, the play of the fullbacks, the choice of formation given the current players on the roster — have or will be discussed in future The Mane Land articles, so I do not want to get ahead of myself. What I do want to get your brain crunching on is the question of why.
Why has Larin started to wake up? Why has he seemed to be becoming a different player every match? Is there one thing you can point to as the catalyst for this progression? I think I can, and I honestly think that the catalyst is Dwyer. Not for fear of losing his starting position, and not for fear of being dismissed by anyone, but because as Dom settles in and scores when he wants, it will only make more room, and garner more opportunities, for Cyle to score more as well. Being side-by-side with Dwyer is only going to continue to make Larin a better striker. With the acquisition of one or two key attacking midfield players, we could be looking at an extremely dangerous Orlando City attacking force next season.
What do you think, Mane Landers?