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A Statistical Analysis of Orlando City’s Attacking Issues

We dive a little deeper into statistics to see where Orlando City can improve its attacking woes.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Vancouver Whitecaps Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

I know many of us are frustrated after Orlando City’s fifth straight defeat after a six-win run of form. The highs and lows of a season can be similar to a game of poker where you’ve doubled up, then immediately fallen down to the short stack in the next hand. It causes you to lose focus, react off of emotion, and is generally not a healthy response.

There are a lot of circumstances involved that I could argue why the Lions are in a good spot considering everything. However, I’m not blind that City has some serious attacking issues. We all know when Dom Dwyer hasn’t been on the pitch the team has had trouble finding ways to score. Dwyer has seven goals in eight appearances and that only leaves 17 goals for the other players on the team over 14 matches. When you look deeper into those numbers, you see that only four goals came in the six matches in which Dwyer didn’t play — one each against D.C., Minnesota, Toronto, and Chicago.

Out of all MLS teams, Orlando currently sits 10th in total goals scored, fifth in the East. That’s not bad for the sixth-place team in the East. But anyone that has given City the eye-test over the season would say that isn’t good enough. By diving into the statistics and comparing them to the style of play, there are some clear reasons why Orlando City’s attack has been stumbling despite what often appears as a threatening attack.

The Attack is Unbalanced

One of the ways you can tell if a team is having issues is where the attack is starting from. Is it primarily one-sided? Is it only using one wing specifically? If a team doesn't have balance, maximize its best players, or is not playing to the strengths of the formation, issues will arise.

Right now Orlando City is attacking at this rate:

  • 43% left side.
  • 25% middle.
  • 32% right side.

There are two points that stand out to me immediately. The first is the balance left-to-right. Some of this has to do with the injury to Scott Sutter. One aspect of the 4-2-3-1 is that the wing backs have plenty of space to get into the attack. Without a true right back, City has been forced to sit deeper on the right side. Whereas on the left side, Mohamed El-Munir has arguably been one of the Lions’ best attacking players. A simultaneously good and bad statement.

This could also point to the trust the team has in Chris Mueller. While impressive in his rookie season, it would appear the outlets are going more towards Justin Meram — who’s usually there — and the left side.

I think it’s a bit of a combination that Mueller hasn't had the same support as Meram from his defenders and is therefore often disconnected more to the play or is forced to play by himself on an island.

The second point is the lack in which the attack is up the middle. A 4-2-3-1 should be dominating the middle. Especially considering one of your best players and, more importantly, best play-makers in Sacha Kljestan sits right in the middle, there should be more attack coming from the middle than currently. Kljestan needs to get on the ball more and facilitate the attack. Too often we’re seeing negative passes from his position and it’s showing in the balance of the attack.

The lack of middle play is also pointing to a major issue that the defensive midfielders aren't getting high enough. If the defensive midfield was getting into the attack more, as it should be, then that percentage would be 3-4% higher where I would rather see it. The fact we’ve yet to see the best balance of the defensive midfield with Yoshí Yotún and Uri Rosell together is part of the problem. And I would expect it to be better once Yotún gets back from World Cup duty.

Cristian Higuita and Rosell are a bad pairing together, as neither gets as involved or high up into the attack on a consistent basis. This often leaves a gaping hole in the middle third (something I’ll bring up later). Regardless, Higuita’s skill set doesn't lend him to be a consistent attacking cog and is better served alongside Yotún as well.

Middle Third and Attacking Third Percentages Show Problems

Orlando City ranks dead last in Action Zone percentage in the middle third, meaning that when the Lions have the ball, they control it the least in the middle third. This is as counter-intuitive to the 4-2-3-1 as you can get. The formation is dependent on the triangle in the middle of the pitch where the defensive midfielders and the the No. 10 role should be controlling the field in what is normally a mismatch of midfield numbers against a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3.

The above issues of the defensive midfielders points to why this percentage is very low. If the gap between Kljestan and the defensive midfielders is too large, you’re not going to be controlling the ball in the middle and it’s going to snowball into a host of other issues.

On the flip side, Orlando is fourth in action in the opposing third. That wouldn’t be a problem if it was scoring. The problem is the urgency. If a team is controlling a healthy amount of possession in the attacking third, you would believe this is leading to goals. However, without urgency, it’s not going to.

City needs to be more aggressive in the attacking third because that is what leads to what most see on the field right now: City looking for the perfect pass, often allowing the defense to get back into the play and choke any space that the team should have to score goals.

The Counter Attack is Non-Existent

So now you look at the fact Orlando isn’t controlling the ball in the middle third well enough. Combine that with dominating its play percentage in the attacking third and what becomes the issue? The obvious answer is urgency. That lack of urgency is more importantly killing the counter attack.

Again, pointing to the formation, it should be absorbing the attack and then getting out quickly through the middle to the wings to open up the game in the counter attack. The problem is Orlando only has one goal on the counter. Is only having one goal the issue? Not necessarily. I think it just points to the issue that City is slow in the attack and lacks urgency consistently. If that urgency was prevalent, I think you see a lot more goals on the counter.

Shots on Goal Are Too Low

If you haven't figured it out yet, each problem leads to another. Often, these issues are inter-connected. One causing the other in both directions then leading to even more issues. A core issue of urgency or confidence can create a variety of issues.

I’ve mentioned urgency already, but when you look at the possession in the attacking third, it shows other issues in the attack: a lack of confidence or —what would be much worse — lack of soccer intelligence.

The Lions’ shots per game currently rank 10th in the league. Compare that to their fourth in the league in percentage and something doesn't net out. What’s the problem? A lot of the time it is doing too much with the ball. Passing too much vs. looking to create opportunities, not getting the ball into the area enough, not taking chances.

You have to take chances in soccer. Taking chances creates opportunities when the defense misplays the ball in the area or even the chance of an own goal. City is nearly two shots less per game than the high end. You can’t score if you’re not shooting. The Lions need to find their confidence, stop looking for the perfect pass, and give themselves more opportunities.

Inefficiency with the Ball is Troublesome

Anyone that watched Saturday night saw the Lions get in trouble the most when the attack stalled due to loss of possession.

When it comes to turning the ball over, City is the fifth-worst team in MLS, losing on average 15.6 touches per game. This isn’t being dispossessed, this is simply poor touches leading to something negative. That means almost 16 times a match, someone on the field is handing it to the other team or stifling the attack because the focus or technical ability isn't there.

How often have we been frustrated watching a City midfielder kill an attack by a poor touch? Or give up a counter because a defensive midfielder can’t control the ball?

This then parlays into losing the ball when it’s at a players feet. If players are losing possession just by bad touches, add pressure into the equation and it won’t be getting any better. City is the sixth-worst team in the league at being dispossessed — losing the ball without a dribble. That means City players are holding the ball too much and not moving the ball as needed. It can also point to an issue of spacing and runs off the ball that is causing the player on the ball to have insufficient options.

You’re not going to win many games — or have an effective attack — without keeping a hold of the ball. But let’s say you took a look at those stats and saw a team like the Red Bulls alongside City on both those lists. A team that is sixth in goals scored. This points to the aggressiveness of the attack. If you’re passive and losing the ball you're going to score less goals. If you’re being aggressive and losing the ball, that aggressiveness should pay off in the end.

Stats can only tell so much. I’m sure there are other ways to dive into these stats, compare them to the best in the league, and come out with positives. One of my favorite shows was Numbers Never Lie on ESPN. You can make numbers tell a lot of stories.

What I think is important is that a lot of these tell us what we may already know. Orlando City needs to play with more aggressiveness and urgency. The middle of the team needs to be more involved in the attack and City must certainly take care of the ball, especially if it’s going to play at its current pace.

Many of these issues can be fixed with certain players coming back into the fold. Regardless, Kreis and the team need to identify these issues and solve them if they hope to continue to stay in the playoff picture.