Given the season that Orlando City has had, it isn’t unreasonable to expect some new faces coming through the door in the upcoming off-season. While a case could be made that most areas of the team could do with being strengthened, I believe that the offensive third is of particular concern. While the team recently set a new MLS record for goals allowed, much of the season was spent with various defenders injured or unavailable for one reason or another, leading to an incredible 24 different starting back line combinations in 32 games this year so far.
Btw Against SEA, Will Johnson was the 7th Lion to start at left back this season. El Munir, Toia, PC, Rocha, Spector & Allen are the others.— Jeff Radcliffe (@Jeff_Radcliffe) October 19, 2018
Although improvements — and perhaps just continuity — are certainly needed in defense, the other end of the field is much more concerning to me.
Before Dom Dwyer’s goal on Wednesday, the last time the Lions had scored was on Sept. 1, meaning there was a staggering 506-minute stretch without an Orlando goal. That is astronomically bad. Granted, Dwyer was unavailable for some of that stretch due to yellow card accumulation, but the absence of one person shouldn’t completely hamstring a team’s ability to score goals. That’s been the case for a lot of the season though, and while Dom has 13 goals, the drop-off to the next man on the list is significant, with Sacha Kljestan sitting in second with five. As a team, Orlando has scored 41 goals on the season, the third fewest in the league.
The offensive woes go beyond just the statistics though. With only two goals in 23 games, Stefano Pinho, the man brought in to help supplement Dwyer, simply hasn’t been able to do so — and his recent injury during Dwyer’s suspension highlighted a shortage at the striker position. Pinho works hard, which is appreciated, but he hasn’t looked to be an MLS caliber striker. Whether that will change in time is anyone’s guess but right now he isn’t cutting it. There’s a glaring lack of numbers at striker. Jose Villarreal plays more of a winger type role, leaving Dwyer and Pinho as the only two true strikers on the roster. Contrast that with all the options available for deployment in defensive midfield, and it’s apparent that there’s a personnel problem as well as a scoring problem.
Beyond the striker position though, there are other issues too. The Lions lack creativity at the attacking midfield position, leading to problems creating chances. Josué Colmán has shown flashes of what he’s capable of but he’s still young and also hasn’t played as often as many fans probably would have liked for a Young Designated Player, regardless of his age. Likewise, Chris Mueller has shown some promising things especially early in the season, but still has a long way to go. Both he and Colmán have a tendency to dribble themselves into trouble, although that’s something that should hopefully pass as they mature.
While Sacha Kljestan has six assists and five goals, the hope was that his production would be higher given his very successful seasons with the New York Red Bulls. Yes, if the team struggles then individual players will too, but many of his performances haven’t been up to par and he’s also 33.
The team needs more punch, more creativity and more options going forward, plain and simple. Certainly the defense has struggled, but in addition to playing a plethora of different back lines over the course of the season, Orlando has tended more and more to spend large parts of games trapped in its own half. The more you have to defend, the likelier it is you’ll concede and having more going forward should help take some of the pressure off of the defense.
The offensive end of the field isn’t the only area where the Lions can stand to get better. Realistically, improvements need to be made all over the field and whether that happens by bringing players in or putting the current players in better positions to succeed is something I can’t answer. But what I can say is that offensively, especially at the striker position, there just aren’t that many options.