James O’Connor threw a curveball with his lineup as Orlando City’s official graphic on social media lined the Lions up with a back three like the previous two outings and included Chris Mueller at left wingback, but it actually played as a 4-3-3 with Mueller on the right of the front three. He was one of four changes as Kamal Miller, Alex De John, Kyle Smith and Tesho Akindele made way for Carlos Ascues, Ruan, Chris Mueller and Dom Dwyer.
It didn’t go well. Montreal ran out 3–1 winners with Ignacio Piatti scoring his ninth and 10th goals against Orlando in his final MLS season, the most goals scored by any single player against the Lions. The team looked shocked after a 90-second spell saw them concede two but unlike the season opener, they failed to mount a comeback. Head Coach James O’Connor commented on the subpar standards shown against Montreal, saying he “didn’t see the performance coming” and spoke at length about the defensive errors in particular. Needless to say,my grades agree.
It’s never easy to pick a Man of the Match in a game like this, so please note that The Mane Land Managing Editor Michael Citro selected the one for this post. You can vote on the poll at the bottom with your own pick and leave a comment telling us why. Kay Rawlins already made her pick, shouts to The Wall:
Man of the Match today? The Wall— Kay Rawlins (@Kay_Rawlins) March 16, 2019
GK, Brian Rowe, 7 (MotM) —Yup, that’s a rating of seven for a goalkeeper in a 3–1 defeat. Another thankless shift for the MLS veteran, Rowe‘s goal was once again peppered with shots — 19 to be precise, with 11 on target. He did excellently to keep the score down, making several reflex saves and was confident coming off his line to collect crosses, through balls and closing down players to make saves one-on-one multiple times as the likes of Maxi Urruti and Piatti ran riot. If you want to blame him for the crazy 90 seconds in which his defense completely whiffed, actively put Montreal in scoring position, and asked far too much of him then we weren’t watching the same game. By the time the third goal came, Orlando was in all-out attack mode with only one central defender on the pitch, committing bodies forward and Rowe was once again left stranded. His distribution must improve, though.
LB, Danilo Acosta, 6 — Acosta doesn’t come out of this Montreal game with his stock particularly damaged, which may count as a compliment given the current climate. He had an OK day defensively, registering five successful defensive actions between blocking, tackling and intercepting, and tracked Saphir Taïder well all game, even on the first phase of the first goal and got a foot to the assist to buy his teammates enough time to close it down. Despite the change in shape, it was clear Acosta was still being asked to push high up the field and my biggest criticism of the 21-year-old so far has been his lack of production: his 80% passing accuracy dropped to 50% in the final third today and he has still only registered one successful cross in his nine attempts across all three games so far this season.
CB, Carlos Ascues, 5.5 — Making his first appearance of the season, the Peruvian had some rust to shake off and clearly didn’t do it in time for Montreal’s first goal — and that was after Montreal nearly scored off an even earlier mistake. He was the closest defender to Orji Okwonkwo, as the Nigerian, on loan from Serie A’s Bologna, dug out the cross from under his feet with minimal pressure from a slow-to-react Ascues to place the ball into the far corner of the goal. After that he was actually pretty assured and is undoubtedly Orlando’s best ball playing center back, registering the third-highest passing accuracy (81.6%) on the sixth-most passes (38) and leading the team in successful long passes (5).
CB, Shane O’Neill, 3.5 — O’Neill came out after last week’s match, taking the blame for the Chicago Fire’s late equalizer, and the error was perhaps still playing on his conscience as some slack marking between him and Ascues for the first goal was quickly followed from kickoff by a horrific attempted back pass to Rowe that never made it and instead gifted a second to Montreal. From there, the Impact never looked like letting their early lead slip. His yellow card was reckless, a sign of his own frustrations, and it was telling that De John was no longer on the field as a sweeper in a back three to clean up the same mistakes he made last week. His days as a starter (O’Neill has started 16 of the 17 games he has been available for since joining in July) look numbered, especially with only two spots available in a back four, with De John looking on from the bench, Lamine Sané yet to return from injury, and the imminent arrival of Swedish international Robin Jansson.
RB, Ruan, 7 — Ruan subbed in for Kyle Smith last week and was a vast improvement in Chicago with the performance earning the Brazilian his first MLS start this week. He put in a good defensive shift again, staying touch tight to Piatti for a large proportion of the game, which is no easy feat. A feature of O’Connor’s game plan is for his fullbacks to join the attack, something Ruan wasn’t shy in doing. It sometimes left him completely out of position for want of a better term because every time that happened, it was because of a sloppy turnover in midfield. Without those, he was in exactly the position he should be in. He was second in the team for touches, with most of Montreal’s problems coming from his play down the right wing, finding Dwyer with a cross and teasing a couple more good balls into the box that nobody chanced to get on the end of.
MF, Sebas Méndez, 6.5 — I praised Méndez last week as he continued to grow into his anchor role, screening a back three and the team ran a lot of the passing game through him. This week saw a lot of the back of the Ecuadorian rather than him facing upfield, as he was continually forced to chase play in the direction of his own goal from slack turnovers, covering for the absence of a third central defender that had been there in his first two starts. It is no surprise then that he comes out of the game with seven successful defensive actions: two tackles, three interceptions, one clearance, and one block. He also led the team with 74 passes, with a completion rate of 81.1%. But for all the numbers he put up, they were in deep areas of the pitch where he couldn’t affect much.
MF, Will Johnson, 6 — Johnson forced the issue early with some good pressing and could have easily won a free kick as he was fouled just outside the box in the opening minutes, but the referee instead stopped play for the head injury Johnson sustained on his way down. That knock would ultimately spell the end of the day for the Canadian, who had been one of the stronger performers in the opening two weeks and the best player in purple in the opening exchanges against Montreal, eventually departing with a suspected concussion inside 20 minutes.
MF, Sacha Kljestan, 6 — Here’s a quote from last week’s player grade for Kljestan: “I’m struggling to assess Kljestan’s performance in Chicago. It wasn’t good but it certainly wasn’t bad. It just happened.” It was much of the same, arguably veering towards bad, for the former back-to-back MLS assist leader. I bring up that title to remind you that there was once some creativity and accuracy to his passing. Today his pass completion dropped to 70.8% and, although he made a concerted effort to track back, it really isn’t his game. I’m not sure what his game is any more and I don’t know if O’Connor does either, but with Higuita a better central midfielder and Josué Colmán, Orlando’s record signing who is at this point having his development stunted so early in his career, a better prospect at CAM, I’d rather see the lineup freshened at this point. Since arriving, O’Connor has given Kljestan 1,442 minutes to Colmán’s 428.
F, Nani, 6.5 — Last week’s man of the match showed his quality early on while the game was still scoreless, cutting back inside the box and picking out Dwyer only to see the U.S. international shoot over the bar. Initially starting on the left side of a front three, he switched sides frequently with Mueller to try and pick apart an opening. Despite connecting on 81.4% of his passes, including two key passes to Dwyer — who should’ve done better — he once again failed to take a shot and had a relatively low impact in comparison to the first two showings, linking up well with the likes of Cristian Higuita in the final third, but nothing clear cut.
F, Dom Dwyer, 6 — It was a day of fluffed lines for Dwyer as he continually failed to capitalize on the chances that fell to him. The striker blasted an early chance over the bar on the turn after a pull-back from Nani, headed a golden chance from a Ruan cross into the ground straight in front of Evan Bush, and then blazed over the bar when he was in alone with only Bush to beat after a Montreal giveaway, a chance you’d typically see him calmly chip over the keeper. He eventually managed to net a late conciliation goal after Mueller curled a ball in behind the Montreal defensive line to Patiño, who in turn poked it to an on-rushing Dwyer for a tap-in. Only two of his six shots were on target and he struggled to make the usual nuisance of himself in the box that he normally does, only registering 26 touches, with Johnson, Patiño and Colmán only seeing fewer in their limited minutes. Although he didn’t take his chances, credit to the striker for at least putting himself into that position.
F, Chris Mueller, 7 — As ever, Mueller’s work rate was some of the highest in the squad. He registered 51 touches, good for the sixth-most on the team, had a 79.3% pass completion rate, and tried to pick up the mantel when he cut inside to unleash a fierce shot from distance only to find the top of the net. Orlando’s eventual breakthrough also came as a result of Mueller, as he curled a nice weighted pass into the path of Santiago Patiño. But for all the good, Mueller was easily dispossessed on a couple of occasions, including by Samuel Piette, which led directly to the first goal, and some of the passes he didn’t complete were simple mental errors indicative of the team’s performance as a whole.
MF, Cristian Higuita (21’), 7 — Higuita made his first appearance of the season early in the first half as a replacement for Johnson and grabbed the opportunity with both hands. Despite the reduced minutes, the midfielder ranked second for passes. He completed 49 at an impressive rate of 91.8% and also stepped in with seven defensive involvements: a team-high four tackles, two interceptions, and one clearance. Even though statistically a lot of his passes were sideways and backwards, he was finding players in space and helping switch play with pace, something which has been lacking so far. That was a wake-up call for O’Connor and I can’t see any justification for him to not start against New York Red Bulls next weekend. Johnson will be unavailable either through injury or due to international duty.
MF, Josué Colmán (74’), 6 — The introduction of Colmán was an issue of too little too late for me. When he came on he injected some pace into the team and he hassled and harried defenders in the closing stages like the rest of the team should have been doing from the start. He isn’t shy to crack a shot from distance, as shown by his sole effort in the cameo appearance he had today, and even though it was a few yards wide and Evan Bush never looked troubled, I can’t say I mind. It’s just good to see some direct, attacking play.
F, Santiago Patino (74’), 7 — Orlando’s No. 3 overall draft pick in 2019 sounded excited for game day on Twitter and his hopes became a reality late in the second half as he stepped onto the field for his professional debut. We didn’t get to see much from the Colombian-born forward for the most part, although he was strong enough to hold off the challenge of Piette and had the awareness to unselfishly prod the ball to Dwyer for a tap-in, registering his first MLS assist.
It was a bad day at the office all round for Orlando — a performance littered with individual errors by practically everyone, although it’s safe to say some had a bigger impact on the scoreline than others. Fingers crossed this is a blip and O’Connor’s side has now got it out of their system and can bounce back. After all, the entire off-season talk was about having the right attitude, the right mentality, and shaking off that losing feeling.
Well there you have it, the first loss of the season, winless in the opening three matches, and for anyone keeping score from last season, that’s one win in 18 games. Let’s see where we go from here.
Who was your OCSC Man of the Match in the 3-1 home defeat to the Montreal Impact?
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