I do not think it needs to be said, but I will say it anyway: The first three weeks of the 2018 MLS season have not been kind to Orlando City. For a team that has started hot in previous seasons, looking at one point in three matches to date leaves a lot to be desired. Considering the off-season moves the club made, expectations were much higher for this point in the season, although those expectations may have been somewhat lofty considering the injuries and late arrivals.
Patience is the name of the game — as has been discussed before — and that story has yet to change, but it may be even more imperative now as we stare down a two-week break. The club decided to take breaks for the international schedule again this season, and the first of those is right now. So, what should Orlando City focus on during the next two weeks?
In what seems to be a constant problem for the club, a number of players are recovering from injury. Dom Dwyer is hopefully on the back end of the recovery from his quad problem, Josué Colmán saw 14 minutes in the NYCFC match this past Saturday as he is finalizing his recovery, Stéfano Pinho looks to be out for two to four weeks after his right ankle injury, and Jonathan Spector is day-to-day with a concussion from the weekend. Regardless of how you choose to do the math, City certainly needs the bulk of its key players 100% every match.
It is one thing to be taking time due to injury, but other players have been delayed or have not yet taken the pitch due to apparently not being match fit. Lamine Sané was delayed in starting due to coming to camp late. Oriol Rosell has yet to even be named to the 18, due to fitness, according to the club. Also, maybe it was just me, but a number of other players just don’t seem to have their legs under them yet, the most apparent to me being Sacha Kljestan. Maybe it is the style of play, the formation, or needing time to gel with new teammates, but the reigning MLS assist leader looked a step behind as I watched the match.
Formation and Tactics
Diamond or something else? I am currently not convinced that the diamond is the formation Orlando City should be moving forward with. I have yet to find a solution, assuming all players are healthy, that makes me believe the 4-4-2 diamond is the tactical approach to best utilize the talent on this team.
Numerous discussions have been had in regards to formation, and it is still too early to tell. The players brought in during the off-season were obviously brought in to work in the 4-4-2 diamond, so until we get to see a full and healthy roster playing in the formation, it will be hard to judge. That being said, with injuries and player fitness being an issue currently, maybe a switch in tactics is needed. I still believe something in a 4-2-3-1 would be beneficial right now, considering the available roster. It would give Mohamed El-Munir and Scott Sutter or RJ Allen more coverage as they pushed up field on the wings. It would also give the Lions the possibility of more control and possession in the midfield, and hopefully some more creativity heading to the final third.
The striker position is one that will need to be addressed quickly. As mentioned above, hopefully this void is quickly filled by the return of Dwyer, but if not, that leaves rookie Chris Mueller as the Lions’ lone striker (remember, he did really well in preseason and has had a few great moments in the matches he has played).
There are two weeks until the Lions play again, a midday match at Orlando City Stadium against Kljestan’s former team, the New York Red Bulls, who play FC Dallas away this weekend. The staff will have two weeks to prepare for this match, and certainly a large part of the preparation is getting the players ready.
No, I do not mean that in a simplistic way. I mean physically, using this two-week period to get those players off the injury list and into the 18. Sure we could also mention items like communication, teamwork, and all of those other pundit buzzwords that sound so good to say in management training seminars and armchair analysis pieces. For me, those take time, time on the pitch with a constant roster of players, a constant starting XI (of course the XI will vary a little over time, but there should be some consistency to it) for players to get that almost-psychic vision of where teammates are.
The pressure is certainly on, and it will only get more and more intense — whether winning or losing — and certainly more vocal if the current run of form continues.