To say that goals have been hard to come by for Orlando City lately would be an understatement. During the team’s current run of 11 losses in 12 games, they’ve only scored multiple goals in three and been shut out in five. That’s troubling considering that the Lions have conceded at least three goals in six of those games.
There have been several contributors to the Lions’ lack of offensive prowess, like Dom Dwyer being the only real scorer on the team, but nothing has been more detrimental than negative play. It’s been an Achilles heel for the Lions in 2018 and has manifested itself in multiple ways.
The most obvious way negative play has been displayed has been on the attack. With the exception of a few times this season, Orlando City has preferred to play the ball backwards rather than attacking the opposition. Too often, the ball continues until it reaches the feet of the goalkeeper, who then plays a long ball for the opposition to collect. An example of this was on Thursday night when a short corner by Orlando City was played back until it was at the feet of Earl Edwards, Jr. An attack that was putting pressure on the New York City FC defense was now forced to play out of the back.
Unsurprisingly, when the Lions have decided to push forward on the counter attack and play positive balls forward, the results have been much better. Last week against the Columbus Crew, Shane O’Neill won the ball off of Gyasi Zardes and played it forward for Cristian Higuita. After the defensive midfielder played it back to O’Neill, the Lions began pushing forward. The following three passes were toward the Crew goal, resulting in a Stéfano Pinho tap in at the other end. Unfortunately, this type of attack has been seldom seen by the Lions as they have preferred to slow down the attack, allowing the defense to retreat and defend.
Another way that negative play has been demonstrated by the Lions has to do with runs into the box. Orlando City’s preferred formation this season has been a 4-2-3-1, which can be seen as a rather defensive formation. When pushing forward into the box, the three attacking midfielders and striker are usually located in the box when the ball comes in. But when it ends up falling to the top of the box, which it often does, both defensive midfielders are 20 yards behind, prepared for a counter attack. Defending this trailing run has plagued the Lions and has seen the opposition score several goals this season, but they’ve failed to do the same on the other end.
Playing the ball backwards is not necessarily a bad thing but Orlando City has made the practice commonplace this season, often ending a threat or allowing the opposition to retreat into a better defensive position. Consequently, scoring has been more difficult as the team has been forced to break down the defense every time down the field, sometimes more than once. This type of negative play has contributed greatly to the team’s lack of offensive production and the current slide it has endured. With the negative attacking mentality displayed this season, it’s a fair conclusion that the slide could continue.