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No Easy Fix For Orlando City’s Defensive Woes

The Lions’ defensive issues have no clear answer.

MLS: Orlando City SC at D.C. United Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

On the face of it, the problem is a simple enough one: Orlando City SC cannot defend. The team has conceded 57 goals so far this year, a number which easily outpaces most other teams in MLS, with the nearest team being Chicago’s 51. With the way things have gone this season, the Lions probably couldn’t even stop a baby from flipping the script and taking the candy from them. And sadly, there simply isn’t an easy fix to these defensive problems.

There are a couple things that I’ve either seen or heard suggested that just aren’t that easy or possible to do. By no means am I suggesting that everyone has these opinions, but I just thought I’d address them since I’ve encountered them multiple times.

“Well why don’t they just work more on defending in training?”

While I haven’t actually been to training to confirm this, and media members aren’t allowed to watch much of it anyway, I would hazard a guess that James O’Connor isn’t neglecting defensive training with the team. Maybe I’m wrong, but as bad as Orlando has been at keeping the ball out of the net all season, I’d find it very hard to believe that no attention has been paid to the issue since O’Connor’s arrival. The problem is that it doesn’t seem to be working. I don’t know if it’s something that needs to change on the training ground, if the players are bereft of confidence, or if the club simply doesn’t possess much depth at fullback (the most likely answer). Regardless, if the answer has something to do with training, I imagine the coaching staff would have come up with it by now.

”Players need to get healthy and stay healthy so the team can have consistency!”

While I agree that it would be absolutely fantastic to actually start the same back line for a few weeks in a row, getting a player healthy is a lot easier said than done. For one thing, there is absolutely no way of controlling whether a player gets hurt or not. Some players are simply more susceptible to injuries than others, whether it be due to them possessing fast or slow twitch muscle fibers, having anatomical or medical conditions that predispose them to certain injuries, or an opposing player just cleaning their clock during a game.

Beyond structuring and scheduling training sessions so they don’t overload and stress a player’s body and looking at the training sessions themselves, there isn’t a ton that the coaching staff can control. Yes, you can look at a player’s diet, sleeping, and lifestyle habits, but if you find something you want changed then you can’t force the player to do so. If they don’t comply on their own time then you’re out of luck.

“The team should just buy some decent defenders, problem solved.”

In a perfect world, yes. But Orlando City is not living in one of those. The team splashed a huge amount of cash in the winter and previous summer’s transfer windows, bringing in Dom Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram, and Josue Colman. And while a little money was gotten back with Meram’s trade to the Columbus Crew, the club still lost money on the deal.

Yes, Shane O’Neill was signed and has admittedly had some bright spots, and Carlos Ascues has been signed on loan, but the club probably didn’t have a wealth of funds to use in the transfer window. Plus there’s no guarantee that new signings will even pan out. One only has to look at Meram to see that. That’s not to say that no new players should be signed simply because of a fear they might not be worth the money, I’m merely pointing out that talent doesn’t always transfer. Besides, if the money isn’t available to spend in the first place, then it’s a moot point.

With 10 games left in the season the team is 10 points back from the last two playoff spots. While that isn’t an unthinkable gap to close, not much about the defending in recent weeks would seem to suggest the team will be able to do so. It’s a question that needs to be figured out sooner rather than later, but with Atlanta United coming to town tonight that’s going to be much easier said than done. Vamos Orlando.