“It is a mistake to look too far ahead. Only one link in the chain of destiny can be handled at a time.” – Winston Churchill
Orlando City hosts Real Salt Lake this Sunday at Orlando City Stadium (TV27, 5 p.m. ET), but it seems that the epicenter of the supporters’ chatter relates to the following weekend’s clash with rival side Atlanta United. Quite frankly, I get it. Atlanta United is arguably the league’s most successful and popular club this season and, naturally, City supporters have waited in nervous anticipation for this specific clash.
For months now, Sunday, May 13, 2018 has been circled and starred on the purple calendars that line Central Florida’s refrigerators and cubicle walls. The match is of vital importance to players, management, and supporters alike. The clash serves as a measuring stick for the Lions as United’s meteoric rise to MLS prominence has set the bar quite high for the remaining 22 clubs. The anticipation for the match is close to reaching a boiling point and the supporters are ready for this battle.
The problem with that though is that the Lions still have an important skirmish to settle with Real Salt Lake first. With five straight wins, the Lions must focus all of their attention on increasing the streak to six. Real Salt Lake is no slouch, either.
Sitting sixth in the Western Conference standings, Real Salt Lake is well within the playoff picture and intends to remain in the conversation. Despite its deceiving record and goal differential (3-4-1, -7 GD), Real Salt Lake’s coaches, players, and fans have been optimistic with their side’s recent displays, despite the less-than-ideal results. RSL is hoping that its recent showings will translate to wins sooner rather than later, and the sense around the club is that it’s about to turn that corner.
Taking a side that’s mired in this current string of poor results lightly would be, to put it lightly, idiotic. This match has “trap game” written all over it for me, and I hope the Lions’ brass shares that sentiment.
What can the Lions do to ensure their superiority wins the day?
Here’s a brief list of what I’d like to see and how it relates to this weekend’s match:
Ideally, the boys in purple are always focused. But for their clash against Real Salt Lake, it feels that much more important. I don’t want the players to be thinking ahead to next weekend’s contest; that’ll only serve as a distraction. The Lions need to be 100% focused on the match at hand, the strategies that were implemented during the past week’s training, and executing said strategies.
Something that has been preached to me throughout my entire life is this: “Be in the moment.” I’m the type that tends to plan way too far ahead. The type that worries about things that, at this very moment, I can’t control. It will be vital that the Lions adopt a similar mentality that allows them to concentrate on winning three points now rather than worrying about their rivals coming to town next week.
As previously mentioned above, the Lions executing the past week’s installed strategies will be important in swaying the match in their favor. A player’s execution is directly correlated with their confidence. Fortunately, the squad’s confidence is quite high right now. It will be important to not only maintain this level of confidence on the pitch, but to convert that confidence into stellar performances that collectively earn three points. Confidence breeds execution, and execution breeds winning results.
Let me be the first to declare that I am no Jason Kreis. The head coach of the Lions is an experienced and tactical manager with extensive playing and coaching experience. Oh, and he’s also won MLS silverware. Although I’m no Kreis, I do happen to house a plethora of applicable tactical knowledge in my noggin.
In analyzing some of Real Salt Lake’s 2018 highlights, I’ve identified a few glaring issues with the way the team conducts itself tactically. The first relates to RSL’s weakness in defending technical or skillful players. Time after time, I witnessed young, inexperienced defenders looking a bit lost or completely missing a tackle on an opposing player due to the slightest of feint movements.
With quick and technically sound midfielders and forwards at Kreis’ disposal (Chris Mueller, Dom Dwyer, Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan, etc.), the Lions should have no problem bombarding the young back line of Real Salt Lake. RSL’s defense is notably poor when adjusting to teams that like to slot through balls past the center of the defense to oncoming strikers with speed — strikers just like Dwyer.
A specialty of Real Salt Lake throughout the 2018 campaign so far has been its proficiency with set pieces. Two of its nine goals this season have come from set pieces, with another pair coming from penalty kicks. As supporters are well aware, the Lions need to see significant improvements in their defense of set pieces. I’ll certainly be keeping a keen eye on all of the dead ball fouls during this match, and you should too.
One last facet of Real Salt Lake’s game to keep a close eye on is its ability to knock long balls well into the paths of its sprinting forwards. The forwards have been doing a solid job timing their runs, and the long ball passes haven’t failed to live up to those runs. With the Lions’ back line having been recently exposed by Dominique Badji, one must hope that Kreis has addressed this inconsistent play, especially as his side hosts a team that revels in such sequences.
Winning a sixth consecutive match would set a new Orlando City club record since joining MLS. Not only would a win continue to grow the confidence of this young squad, but it would also serve as a primer, providing the necessary spark of confidence required to go toe-to-toe with a side of Atlanta’s quality. For now though, the Lions must make sure they’re focused on Real Salt Lake.