For Orlando City, getting the first win of the season won’t be an easy task this weekend. The Lions face a New York Red Bulls team that has been playing pretty well as of late, aside from a 1-0 road loss to Real Salt Lake. This Red Bulls squad presses the ball aggressively all over the pitch and, as our own Guilherme Torres pointed out, that could cause some serious problems for a Lions team that has committed more than its fair share of turnovers in the defensive end through the first three games of the season. However, any strategy is only as good as its weaknesses and, if Orlando plays it right, exploiting the high press could pay big dividends.
Much of the Red Bulls’ play is predicated on pressing in the opposition’s half, and then immediately getting numbers forward once they win the ball. The strategy is high risk, high reward. When they do win the ball it more often than not leads to a chance, but if the press is broken or if they lose the ball with numbers up the field, then obviously there are spaces in behind that can be exploited.
The Lions have players that (in theory) should be able to do just that. Justin Meram’s speed and quick feet are lethal in just about any situation and, while he hasn’t shown it yet, Sacha Kljestan is more than capable of picking the right pass to launch a counter-attack. The problem, as it has been for much of this young season, is actually putting all the necessary parts together.
Assuming Lamine Sané and Amro Tarek start in central defense, the duo will have a key part to play in the match, and not just for the obvious reason of being tasked with potentially stopping Bradley Wright-Phillips. While their ability to deal with the Red Bulls’ talisman will certainly be important, what they do after dealing with him will be just as important. When one of the two picks up the ball after a New York player is dispossessed in the final third, it will be of the utmost importance that they quickly pick the right pass to play.
With the Red Bulls’ pressing, they won’t have a lot of time to dwell on the ball and will need to make the correct decision as soon as possible. But with the possibility of a large number of the opposition being caught up-field when New York loses the ball, playing the right pass could also launch the counter-attack. If the two have good distribution in those situations, then that could end up going a very long way.
It’s always nice to be able to come out and dominate a game from start to finish by maintaining control of the ball and dictating play. That’s something that this team has yet to prove it can do on a consistent basis. Instead, it might be wiser to try and hit the Red Bulls with quick and smart counter-attacks, rather than trying to beat them at their own game. I’m not suggesting that the Lions should throw 11 men behind the ball and park the bus, but they should simply try to use New York’s own strategy against them. It won’t be easy but, if executed well, it could lead to Orlando’s first win of the season.