Orlando City is the worst team defensively in Major League Soccer this season. The Lions have conceded 54 goals and have only one shutout in 2018. Of those goals, 23 have been conceded in the last eight MLS matches. The offense has seemed to find its way over the last two matches, scoring three in both, but the Lions only came away with one point. Here are the things Orlando City and James O’Connor must fix defensively to give the Lions a shot at the playoffs.
Start A Different Left Back
To put this lightly, Victor “PC” Giro has been awful at left back. His glaring issues showed against the New England Revolution and almost put the Lions in a deeper hole than they already are. PC consistently struggles against opposing wingers and at times just looks lost in terms of marking opposing attackers in the penalty area. He also struggles on aerial duels, winning them only a third of the time.
Fouls are also a constant issue with him. In the 305 minutes he has played this season, he has picked up five fouls, a yellow and a red card. For O’Connor, signing someone through transfer or inserting Donny Toia, who has seen little playing time, would be valuable. Tony Rocha has also seen time at left back but has been placed in the midfield as of late. Inserting someone new into the left back position would go a long way in helping Orlando’s defense improve.
Establish a Leader in the Back Line
This has been yet another issue that seems to have not been addressed throughout the season. After Jonathan Spector and Lamine Sané were sidelined with injuries, no player on Orlando’s defense took an initiative to take leadership of an ever-changing back line. Veteran leadership from Chris Schuler or Scott Sutter, for example, would go a long way to help younger players such as Amro Tarek and Shane O’Neill establish some confidence. Spector was named captain of the team at the beginning of the season, but with his absence the defense never found a new leader and if someone steps up, the Lions will establish some better teamwork on the back line and likely improve.
The Team Must Fix Silly Mistakes
Orlando City has looked horrific in its own final third at times and the 3-3 draw against New England was no different. Here is the first goal that the Revolution scored.
Much of the blame can go on Earl Edwards Jr. here, but the throw-in went past Rocha, O’Neill, and Tarek before arriving at the goal line and that is just unacceptable defense. The ball was placed well but with better communication that play never develops and keeps the game level early on. On the second goal, Sutter made a poor decision to pass a square ball to O’Neill with an opponent lurking just behind, who easily dispossessed him, resulting in an easy goal.
Again, the play here could have easily been prevented but a silly mistake resulted in another conceded goal. Keep in mind that these are two examples in the same match and Orlando has made these kind of mistakes all season. If you take those two elementary mistakes away, Orlando has a 1-0 lead at halftime and a 3-1 victory if everything else fell the same way. This all falls back to coaching and O’Connor must find a way to prevent his defense from making mistakes that leave costly points off the table.
With the draw against the Revolution, Orlando City may be too far gone to see the playoffs. It may be too late to even fix these mistakes and make tactical adjustments to the worst defense in MLS, but anything can happen.
But to do so, the Lions will need to start turning draws into wins to make up the difference in the remaining games. How can Orlando City do that? It must go back to the six-game winning streak and play solid defense. Again, if Orlando can improve defensively and keep scoring goals as it has recently, it has a chance to make up the six-point deficit.