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Orlando City Struggles to Play Out of the Back

Orlando City has emphasized playing out of the back, but that’s difficult when nobody is there for support.

MLS: Portland Timbers at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor has been emphasizing playing the ball out of the back since his arrival, something that has become evident in the team’s play. For the majority of Saturday night’s draw with the Philadelphia Union, the Lions attempted to play goal kicks on the ground and work the ball forward through the midfield. While this tactic starts off well, it quickly falls apart.

For the first 70 minutes of Saturday night’s game, each goal kick by goalkeeper Joe Bendik was sent out to right back Scott Sutter, who was situated just outside of the box. The Swiss defender would then push forward, looking to play the ball through the midfield to reach forward Dom Dwyer. But that’s where the attack would come to a halt.

A problem for Orlando City all year has been players coming back to support. Rather than coming back to provide an option, too often players run away from the player possessing the ball, forcing a difficult pass. The player failing to support Sutter Saturday night was midfielder Cristian Higuita. As Higuita fled, Sutter was left with two options; either play the ball back to Bendik or play it over the top for Dwyer.

Regardless of which decision is made by Sutter, it ultimately likely results in a turnover for the Lions. While Bendik has been a good shot-stopper since joining Orlando City in 2016, he’s awful with his feet, something that has been evident during the 2018 season. If Bendik receives the ball, it will either be sent long or will be turned over in the back, a bad situation either way.

The other option for Sutter is sending a long ball to the lone striker, Dom Dwyer. At 5-foot-9, Dwyer is often one of the smallest players on the field and definitely smaller than the center backs he goes up against. It’s highly unlikely that he would win any 50/50 ball sent his way given the height difference.

Rather than being forced to make a risky decision, Sutter should have multiple options when he receives the ball from Bendik. One of the defensive midfielders, such as Uri Rosell, as well as the attacking midfielder in front of him should be coming toward the defender to provide simple options to disperse the ball. That player should then have multiple options, allowing the team to work the ball forward. Given Dwyer’s height, keeping the ball on the ground will allow him to receive the ball easier. Ideally, a strong through ball would spring Dwyer in on goal.

The idea of working the ball forward on the ground is a good one given the assets the team has to work with. However, if no one comes to support, leaving the possessor of the ball with no good options, this tactic quickly dies. Unfortunately for Orlando City, failure to provide support has become habitual, resulting in turnovers and counter attacks for the opposition. Working the ball through the midfield could provide greater success for the Lions, but breaking this habit is essential. If not, their struggles will likely continue.