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Orlando City Must Improve Its Defending in Wide Areas

Scoring loads of goals is great, conceding just as many... not so much.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Atlanta United FC Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City SC’s form has improved quite a bit from where it was at the beginning of the summer. Over the last two games especially, the team has looked purposeful, resilient, and hard working.

However, it has also looked especially vulnerable when defending out wide, an area that will surely need to be improved upon if the team wishes to get better. This also includes defending crosses and balls played into the box from wide areas, and balls played in from set pieces; another area in which the Lions have been susceptible recently.

In the last two games the Lions have played, every goal they conceded came as a result of either a cross being played in from a wide area or a man breaking into the box after shaking his man on the wing and making a pass which led to a goal. This, for obvious reasons, is a problem. While it’s good that players haven’t been dancing through the heart of our defense at will or picking us apart in the midfield with their passing, the defense has still given up four goals in two games and was probably lucky not to concede more against an Atlanta United team that created plenty of chances.

Obviously, the first area to address is the fullback play. While Donny Toia and Scott Sutter have offered plenty going forward, with each notching an assist in the game against Atlanta, they were also both given a torrid time by Atlanta’s wingers. As stated above all, three goals came from play in wide areas. Two were from crosses, and the other was the result of an Atlanta winger breaking into the box after getting past Toia fairly easily. To be fair to both Toia and Sutter, they didn’t always have a lot of help, both found themselves in one-on-one situations more than once, without reinforcements from the midfield.

This might be attributable to the formation that the Lions have frequently deployed as of late. While the 4-4-2 diamond has been effective going forward and allowed OCSC to get the ball both to Giles Barnes, and find players in wide areas, it hasn’t been as effective defensively. The tendency has been for the two wide players in the diamond to sink into the middle of the field. While this does a good job of clogging up the passing lanes, it’s left the fullbacks exposed to those one-on-one situations. The team is also playing with two strikers and no wingers, who typically track back and help out the fullbacks defensively.

The other problem is defending balls into the box, both from set pieces and crosses. Whether it’s an outright shot or header, or a ball that drops and then gets put in the net in the ensuing chaos, the defending and marking could be better. Regardless of how well they defend or how much help they get, the fullbacks won’t be able to stop 100% of the balls into the box, so the center backs need to be better prepared when balls do come in. In the last game, Jonathan Spector lost Martinez on his second goal and Tommy Redding got torched on the third. Yes mistakes happen, but the center backs need to be better if this team is going to move forward; scoring three goals in a game is great but conceding three as well...not so much.

In the end, there are a few possible solutions.

  1. Change the formation to provide more help for the fullbacks, possibly to a 4-3-3. The midfield three can still sink in and clog the middle of the field and the two wingers can track back on defense. The problem with this is that you can’t fit both Dom Dwyer and Cyle Larin into the lineup, which Kreis seems to be keen on.
  2. Stick with the 4-4-2 and give specific instructions to the wide men in the diamond to prioritize helping out on the wing instead of dropping into the middle. The downside is that you then obviously have less help through the middle of the field.
  3. Emphasize one-on-one defending and marking during training, which I’m sure is already being done anyway. But perhaps more of an emphasis will help avoid conceding four goals in two games. Not to be a Negative Nancy or anything, but oh well, shots fired.

Overall, definite signs for optimism during the last few games, but shoring up the defense is crucial for this team moving not only into the last few games of the season, but into next year as well.