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James O’Connor Saw Plenty to Evaluate and Correct in His First Orlando City Game

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Although the Lions lost 4-1 to LAFC, Head Coach James O’Connor was able to learn a lot about his new club.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Los Angeles FC Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

James O’Connor got his first match as the new head coach of Orlando City under his belt Saturday and it was interesting to say the least. The 4-1 loss featured numerous highs and lows — from Jonathan Spector’s injury to Sacha Kljestan’s goal. We could go on and on about the goal that was stripped away from Dom Dwyer, but the result stands nevertheless.

For O’Connor, this match can be viewed as more than a blowout. He was able to see his tactics in-game for the first time and should be able to assess what needs to be fixed and what worked.

Lions Still Need to Work on Finishing

There were plenty of times throughout the match against LAFC that the Lions failed to capitalize on their attacking chances. In the 31st minute, Dom Dwyer was one-on-one with goalkeeper Tyler Miller and failed to score in a situation that he typically thrives in.

Kljestan’s goal was the bright spot to Orlando’s attack along with Dwyer’s strike that was taken away by the VAR without referee Chris Penso looking at the video review. Regardless, Orlando’s attack was still not as good as what it could be and O’Connor has some work to do to get this attack back to its form from earlier this season. Josué Colmán, Dwyer and Chris Mueller ran the attack, but maybe O’Connor could configure a new combination at the striker and wing positions or bolster the midfield with someone who can help Yoshimar Yotún and Kljestan generate attacking chances. Hopefully O’Connor assessed the attack enough to find a possible solution to the woes the team has faced in the final third.

Joe Bendik Can’t Do It All By Himself

Despite giving up four goals, Joe Bendik stopped more than he conceded against LAFC. Bendik picked up his 50th save of the season early on and made nine saves. The defense during the match was solid until Spector’s injury, which led to the entire back line basically falling apart. As O’Connor watched, he had to think that the back line can obviously get better due to the fact that Orlando has given up 18 goals in its last five matches. Multiple factors have caused Bendik to have one of the worst statistical seasons of his career, so O’Connor will have to find a solution to arguably the biggest weakness for Orlando City this season.

Video Review Can Swing the Tide of a Match

When you think of a 4-1 result in a coaching debut, most would believe the match was a blowout. But with this match for O’Connor, that wasn’t the case. His squad was very much in the match down 2-1 in the 72nd minute when Dwyer netted what was believed to be the equalizer until VAR stripped the goal away as it was determined that Justin Meram was offside.

This is not something you would have expected O’Connor to “learn” per say, but it is something he has to think about from now on in MLS. The call changed the tone and momentum of the match completely and LAFC scored two late goals in quick succession to make the score much more lopsided. O’Connor will have to find a way to keep his team going if a situation such as this one arises again. The team must find a way to overcome those moments mentally and keep fighting.

“I think you try and coach the players to maintain belief and try to encourage them to strengthen their resolves, their mentalities, and look at the opportunities that we’ve created,” O’Connor said after the match. “It’d be different if we weren’t necessarily creating opportunities, we have created a lot of opportunities there, but equally we need to defend better than that — the two goals in the end, one from the corner and one from the mistake.”

Possession Must Become A Priority

As stated earlier, conceding goals has been a weakness for the club all season. Adding not having solid possession in a match to that and it usually won’t end well. O’Connor found that out the hard way against LAFC as his club only held possession 37% of the time. Orlando spent a good portion of the match in its own defensive third and it cost the team dearly on numerous occasions. With this being a major problem during the entirety of the match, O’Connor couldn’t find a way to fix the issue and it resulted in two late goals and a loss. O’Connor’s main goal with possession should be utilizing his midfielders, preferably Yotún and Kljestan, who can fuel counter attacks with the snap of a finger.

Road Games in MLS Are Difficult

This is not really something O’Connor didn’t already know, but it is worth mentioning. O’Connor never played in an MLS road match, let alone coach in one, even though he played in much tougher leagues. MLS road matches are arguably the most important for every team because picking up points on the road could be the difference between a playoff spot and sitting on your couch watching other teams play in the postseason. O’Connor will look for ways to pick up these points that the Lions will need later on.

With his first game now behind him, O’Connor was able to take a lot from this match. The loss stung and left a sour taste in the mouths of fans and players. But for the players and the new coaching staff, it was a learning opportunity. The players operated under their third coach of the season and the staff got its first look at the players in a game, so plenty is to be learned and evaluated in this transition period. Hopefully O’Connor will assess the rights and wrongs from this match and use them to make the Lions a better team in the near future and get this team back into playoff contention.