After the first week of the 2018 MLS season, Mohamed El-Munir gave Orlando City fans another reason to be optimistic. But his second appearance Saturday night showed some glaring weaknesses that could potentially be troublesome moving forward.
The Orlando City back line played well in the team’s first game of the season against D.C. United. The Libyan left back, replacing last year’s starter Donny Toia, played well enough to be recognized as the undisputed starter among media and fans. His performance was capped by a key moment in the game when he chased down United striker Darren Mattocks from behind, stopping what may have been the game-clinching goal for the visitors.
While El-Munir’s first game was a huge success, his second was the polar opposite. Rather than being known for a key play that allowed his team to grab a point, he displayed some disturbing weaknesses that could cause trouble moving forward.
Being a left back, it’s natural for El-Munir to be more comfortable on his left foot. However, being more comfortable on one foot is different than solely relying on that foot. Being on the left side, there won’t be many opportunities to use his right foot so it’s no surprise that his inability or unwillingness to use his non-dominant foot wasn’t discovered in the team’s first game.
In the 30th minute Saturday night, the situation arose. After receiving a ball from Yoshimar Yotún on the left side, El-Munir cut inside, losing his defender and creating space in the attack. Sitting about 35 yards out, the defender should’ve played the ball into the box with his right foot. The following hesitation was telling, as El-Munir considered using his right foot, before turning back outside and into traffic to use his dominant left.
It won’t take much time watching film for next week’s opponent, New York City FC, to learn about his revelation. Orlando City opponents now know that when El-Munir receives the ball outside, as is bound to happen multiple times throughout the game, all they have to do is force him inside and onto his right foot. His inability or unwillingness to use that foot will likely result in him turning back outside and right into the waiting defender he just eluded.
The second way that El-Munir was exposed Saturday night involved one of the most common plays in soccer: the back-post run. If defended well, the back post will be the location of the final clearance of the ball away from danger. If defended poorly, the back-post run can create havoc for a defense. Given the way El-Munir defended the back post Saturday night, the latter could be common for the Lions.
The back post run on the right attacking side was available all night for the Loons, so it was no surprise when it resulted in the game-winning goal in the 79th minute. Frankly, the Lions were lucky not to give up multiple goals from crosses reaching an open player on the back post. Nearly every time the situation occurred, it was the man that was supposed to be marked by El-Munir.
This is another very troubling revelation for Orlando City as teams can now expect to find the open man at the back post when he’s supposed to be marked by El-Munir. Rather than cutting back or sending a cross into the middle of the box where goalkeeper Joe Bendik can collect, opposing crossers will send long balls toward Bendik’s back post where they can be relatively certain to find a wide-open and waiting teammate.
Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis and General Manager Niki Budalic made big changes during the off-season to improve the team. One of those changes was bringing in El-Munir and sending Toia to the bench. After his first start, it looked to be a great signing as El-Munir played very well. However, his weaknesses were exposed on Saturday night against Minnesota United. What it just one poor game, or will El-Munir be a liability in what could otherwise be a strong back line? That remains to be seen, but judging from Saturday night, Orlando City should fear the latter.