Orlando City SC fans saw an unfinished version of what the 2018 team should be in the 1-1 tie against D.C. United in Saturday’s season opener and, if several changes are expected to happen as the year progresses, one significant feature of the new Lions was already on display: passing ability.
Last year, Orlando was in the bottom half of MLS in both possession (48.5%) and passing accuracy (78.9%) according to WhoScored.com. In the season opener, the Lions controlled the game, keeping the ball on their feet for 59.1% of the time and moved it around with an 82% efficiency-rate. All of that being one man down for almost 60 minutes.
“We out-possessed D.C. United on a night when we were down a man for 60 minutes, so that says something,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said in his post-match press conference. “But I do believe that there’s still lots of room for improvement, obviously.”
Of course the fact that Orlando was behind on the scoreboard for the biggest portion of the game impacted the numbers, as the team had to adopt an offensive-minded and dominant game plan, but don’t be fooled, the Lions are going to have more of the ball in 2018.
This change has a lot to do with personnel. Players like Justin Meram and Cam Lindley helped the team to dictate the pace in the season opener as the Iraqi International had 44 passes (sixth best for the team) and an 86.4% accuracy rate (the second best among those who passed the ball at least 20 times). One of them found Jonathan Spector in great position to feed Stéfano Pinho on Orlando’s goal.
Lindley was the second player on the team to have the ball on his feet the most, completing 55 passes, 10 fewer than midfield partner Yoshimar Yotún, and connected his play with an 83.6% accuracy rate.
And the new style might even trend higher when other newcomers are able to play. Sacha Kljestan is one of them. The former New York Red Bulls player led MLS in assists in the last two years and averaged 57 touches per match, with 77.8% accuracy over his three seasons with the club.
And don’t discount Oriol Rosell. The Spanish midfielder was a hub for Sporting Kansas City’s game during his 43-match tenure with the club between 2013 and 2014, averaging over 62 passes per game with an impressive 87% completion rate.
It looks like it’s going to be a passing game in 2018, then!