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Orlando City Must Withstand Red Bulls’ High Press

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The Lions’ back line will be tested against one of the most dynamic teams in MLS this weekend.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Orlando City SC Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

Turnovers in the defensive end have been one of the problems Orlando City SC has faced at the start of its 2018 MLS season campaign. Head Coach Jason Kreis obviously had a lot of things to work on and he had the time to do so with the international break, but this particular aspect of the game should have been a priority for the Lions over the last couple of weeks.

The reason for that? Orlando City’s next opponent, the New York Red Bulls, have recently made their names by punishing their rivals when they turn the ball over in their defensive end of the field.

That has been the trademark of the team since Jesse March took over as head coach in 2015. The strategy is executed through a dynamic pressure high on the field, which oftentimes turns into possession in the final third and, eventually, into goals through quick combination plays.

“It’s a team that’s very, very cohesive,” Kreis told the media after Tuesday’s training session. “They are very direct about the way they’re doing things and they want to get into the opponent’s half very quickly. It’s a team that wants to high press everything, so it’s going to cause us problems if we’re not very sharp on the ball and if we don’t have ideas where we want to get it very quickly.”

A look at the Red Bulls’ map of tackles, interceptions and recoveries from last weekend’s 3-0 victory over Minnesota United gives a better idea on how active they are in the opposition’s field.

Image: MLSSoccer.com

The Red Bulls are not only active, but they are also effective when they try to dispossess their rivals. According to WhoScored.com, the New Yorkers led the league in tackles, averaging 25.3 per game. And several of them happen in their offensive third.

The Red Bulls have a trio of dangerous and dynamic players, who are the main actors of their high press in Tyler Adams, Daniel Royer and Alejandro Romero Gamarra. When one of them manages to recover the ball, he dribbles it a few yards and finds Bradley Wright-Phillips, one of the best strikers in the league, in position to finish.

Orlando City’s center backs will be under heavy pressure every time they have the ball for most of the match. They will have to move it quickly and smartly and the entire team will need to give them options, but also to be ready to transition defensively in an intelligent way if a turnover happens — and even to make a smart foul and stop the ball if that’s the case.

Some of the team’s best passers, such as Yoshimar Yotun and Sacha Kljestan, will be requested to drop deeper and help with the distribution near Orlando’s penalty box. Kljestan, who was a Red Bull for the last three seasons and holds deep knowledge about New York’s system, will be pivotal to help the Lions break it.

“They’re very organized and they have a very good style of play, which they stick to and they don’t deviate from, so we should know what to expect,” the midfielder said about his former team. “A lot of pressure, a lot of turnovers, a lot of transition opportunities, so we’ve got to be good with the ball and be good at tracking back when we turn the ball over because they’ll want to counter fast.”

However, as with any other system, the Red Bulls’ high pressure also has its flaws. As several players step forward to push the opponents, there’s plenty of space in the central area of the field. If the Lions can pass the ball out of the back and find good dribblers such as Justin Meram and Josué Colmán, they will have a chance to use the system against its creators.