James O’Connor decided to keep his 3-5-2 formation and make just the one change to the lineup for Orlando City’s first road game of the season, swapping last week’s Man of the Match Chris Mueller for latest Designated Player signing Nani.
In a game that lacked quality, the Lions nearly earned their first road win since April 29, 2018. Indeed that was the last time the team had picked up any points away from home so it was a blow when 10-men Chicago rescued a draw at the death.
GK, Brian Rowe, 5.5 — Largely untested by way of Chicago’s ineptitude over Orlando’s solidity, Rowe saw the defense in front of him carved open twice in the opening exchanges and looked helpless to do anything. After that he was only forced into a couple of routine saves, collected a couple of crosses confidently, and was seconds away from banking a first clean sheet in purple until a close-range stoppage-time header caught him flat footed and nestled in the bottom corner. He’s not at fault, but it wasn’t an inspiring dive either. Also a note on his distribution which was wayward from his feet although he did well trying to spring a counter when throwing it out.
D, Kamal Miller, 5 — Orlando set up with a very wide back three to the extent that rookie Miller spent a lot of the game hugging the sideline. Despite the distance and bizarre shape, he kept his line well enough to help catch a couple of offside calls but struggled one on one, only making one tackle and regularly getting burned for pace. His clearances seemed wild and skittish, his 54% pass success rate was only better than an isolated Dwyer and even playing with a man advantage he looked far more unsettled than he did on his professional debut last week as the Lions tried, and ultimately failed, to see the game out.
D, Alex De John, 6 — De John imposed himself on Nemanja Nikolic to keep the Hungarian quiet after an opening few minutes that could have (and should have) seen him score twice, helping clean up after his fellow defenders’ mistakes by playing the sweeper role as the central man in a back three. It wasn’t pretty at times but he did his own job well with a dominant aerial performance and he also made a team-high 10 clearances.
D, Shane O’Neill, 5 — O’Neill went quietly about his job for the most part. His 25% tackle success was disappointing but not costly as he played high and to the right in Orlando’s wide defensive shape. He wasn’t as busy as De John, nor did he struggle as much as Miller…that was until Przemyslaw Frankowski’s cross was fired towards the head of CJ Sapong. At this point O’Neill should have either attacked the ball or at the very least not given Sapong the room to jump, but instead his feet froze, he got caught ball watching a solid foot away from Sapong, and let the forward head in the equalizer unchallenged.
WB, Danilo Acosta, 6 — Acosta had a better day than his right-sided counterpart Kyle Smith, not that that is much of a compliment in itself. He led the team in touches, with 59, and had twice as many crosses as the next highest (four), but none of them connected. Defensively he registered two interceptions and made several good recoveries but the game-tying assist came from his flank, as he didn’t close down, which is disappointing mark on an otherwise promising but unproductive performance.
MF, Sebas Méndez, 7.5 — The Ecuadorian was an effective anchor, doing well off the ball to cut out the passing lanes and making several interceptions from his midfield station that in the first half was all too often merging with the defensive line. He looked more confident, decisive, and expressive in the second half and finished the game leading the team with 45 passes. It’s hard to know where the 21-year-old’s ceiling is, having not really seen much of his playmaking abilities from deep, but I feel O’Connor will just be content to use him in the defensive role he shined in today on the road.
MF, Will Johnson, 7.5 — Johnson had plenty of energy as part of a midfield tandem with Mendez, with whom he shared a near identical average playing position, owing to the fluid nature with which they changed sides and covered for the other when they went to close down the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was given license to roam freely into the Orlando half. He spent a lot of the first half dropping deep into the back line to lend a much-needed hand and level head as Orlando struggled to get a foothold in the game but the early goal in the second half seemed to loosen the team up and they played with more confidence in the middle of the park, as seen in Johnson’s 39 passes at a success rate of 87% — the best in the team.
MF, Sacha Kljestan, 6.5 — I’m struggling to assess Kljestan’s performance in Chicago. It wasn’t good but it certainly wasn’t bad. It just happened. His passing was elegant at times and wayward at others but with 78% successful, increasing to 82% in the final third he was making things tick over even if he wasn’t making things happen. He put himself about defensively, making some good reads but if he didn’t win the first ball he seemed a little too lethargic to continue battling and pressing didn’t seem to be part of O’Connor’s game plan, so he struggled to get into the game at times, ending up being simply passed around. His heat map shows no pattern, with him pretty much floating everywhere as he struggled to find a way into the game and I’ll forgive you if you forgot he was on set pieces as his deliveries looked fine at best but produced nothing by way of chances.
WB, Kyle Smith, 4 — Smith played incredibly high up the right wing and took every invitation to carry the ball forward. On the sole occasion he managed to beat his man, his service was poor. Defensively he looked rattled and pretty much got beat every time, allowing Aleksandar Katai to provide some easy service to Nikolic, who you’d expect to bury such chances. Add to that a first half booking and it wasn’t a surprise to see him hooked off by his former Louisville City boss before the hour mark in a like-for-like switch with Ruan.
F, Nani, 8 (MOTM) — The game’s two big talking points and positives from an Orlando standpoint both came as a product of the Portuguese international. First, he got the assist on Dwyer’s goal, taking the initiative and having the nous to lift the ball over the Chicago back line after a bit of aimless back and forth in midfield. Panic ensued and Dom capitalized. Later, he threaded a beautifully weighted through ball to Ruan, which drew the red card, an event that should’ve confirmed all three points for Orlando and hailed Nani as a hero on his full debut. But, alas, it wasn’t to be. There were promising signs though of what happens when you put actual quality in your side. The one down side is he didn’t have a shot.
F, Tesho Akindele, 6 — Tesho was forced off last week after he scored the equalizer, later citing cramp, so some may have been surprised to see him thrown straight back in to starting lineup against the Fire, with Dwyer once again on the bench and instead Mueller having the make way for Nani. But he must have looked fit enough through the week’s training and he got the nod. Unfortunately, the Canadian lasted 20 minutes before being forced off. In the cameo he flashed his strength with some holdup play and had a good passing exchange with Nani but did little to trouble the Chicago back line, registering six passes and no shots.
F, Dom Dwyer (21’), 8 – Dwyer once again started the game on the bench but was called upon earlier than expected as a replacement for the hobbling Akindele. He immediately made his presence known in the box in true Dwyer fashion, chasing down every ball, but his only chance in the first half was from outside the box. Early in the second half he pounced on some indecisive defending to calmly poke Nani’s testing dink over an onrushing David Ousted. He continued to chase lost causes, hound defenders much more effectively than Akindele, and could have found the net again if he hadn’t hesitated and got the ball stuck under his feet — albeit for a belated offside flag to save his blushes.
WB, Ruan (58’), 7 – Ruan made his Orlando City debut from off the bench, with the Brazilian tagging in for the struggling Smith near the hour mark, and looked a vast improvement. He showed a lightning burst of pace to catch up to Nani’s through ball which invited a last ditch red card challenge from Jorge Corrales and he also made good on his defensive duties, registering two tackles and two interceptions in his 30 minute shift.
F, Chris Mueller (89’), 6 – Last week’s Man of the Match, Mueller surprisingly started on the bench as Nani was drafted into the lineup, but he was called upon on in the final minute of normal time to help see the game out. He didn’t get a chance to get up to game speed but still managed to link up with Dwyer and help drive towards goal, only for the duo to get in each other’s way, ending the chance to put the game away. He did track back and attempt to block the cross for the assist but appeared to hesitate before dangling a futile leg as it whipped past him.
On paper a draw away at Chicago doesn’t seem like such a bad result but when you consider Orlando had a man advantage and came within seconds of walking away with a W, it’s an absolute disaster. I struggled at times to see the game plan: Orlando had a stretched back three that literally spanned the entire width of the pitch but the wingbacks had an average position at the halfway line in a game the Lions struggled to get out of their own half. How does that work? Answers on a postcard!
There were positives, however, namely that the defensive side of the midfield looked good and Nani and Dwyer’s individual talents have shined now in both games. On first glance Ruan looks like a must-start over Smith and I guess it’s also a comfort knowing that Orlando still has the likes of Carlos Ascues and Lamine Sané to fit back into this defense.
Who was your OCSC Man of the Match in the 1-1 draw to Chicago Fire?
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