Last time I did grades, a Canadian team was visiting Orlando and James O’Connor rolled out a Lions team that unexpectedly played with a back four. Anyone getting déjà vu? Luckily that’s where the similarities ended as Orlando left it late but claimed all three points, beating Vancouver Whitecaps for the first time. O’Connor revived his 4-3-3 for only the second time on the year as he made four changes from last week’s road trip to Utah with Lamine Sané, Uri Rosell, Nani, and Dom Dwyer all returning to the starting lineup.
Here’s how they performed:
GK, Brian Rowe, 7 — A pretty quiet game for Rowe compared to the other games he’s had as an Orlando player so far, which I’m sure he’ll appreciate. He dealt with a long distance Ali Adnan free kick, which was fiercely dipping in front of the former Whitecaps goalkeeper — one of only two saves he was forced into on the day. On a couple of occasions he hesitated in coming off his line before retreating again, something that doesn’t breed any particular confidence, but other than that it was a straightforward performance that was tough to fault.
D, João Moutinho, 7 — Moutinho looked like he was struggling to get into the rhythm of a back four early on, leaving gaping holes on the counter for his opposite number, former-Lion Scott Sutter, to run into and he just didn’t have the awareness to cover. Luckily he grew into the game on both sides of the ball. Defensively he registered two tackles and one interception. Offensively, we’ve previously seen him link well with Nani and that continued down the left flank. He was third on the team in passes, ahead of his countryman, but 10th in accuracy, connecting on 80%. He finished with three shot attempts (second on the team), including one on goal in first-half stoppage time on a good attacking run. Not the best performance from the 2018 first-round draft pick but room to improve.
D, Robin Jansson, 7.5 — Jansson is another that had a quiet day, which, for a defender, especially one in purple (or Parley, as it was today), is a nice change. Vancouver offered very little from open play but the big Swede stayed alert just after the hour mark to intercept a threatening through ball. He was overall very tidy, leading the team in clearances, with seven, and conceding no fouls.
D, Lamine Sané, 7 — Again pretty difficult to grade as Vancouver didn’t particularly ask any questions, shown by the fact Jansson and Sané were the only outfield Orlando players to have an average position on the defensive side of the halfway line. He only registered one tackle, one interception, and one clearance, and got done on a back heel by Fredy Montero to tee up an onrushing Hwang In-Beom, but excelled with his passing, making seven of eight long balls, and was also a regular target on set pieces, most notably when he narrowly put the ball over the bar on a corner as a Nani cross skimmed off his head.
D, Ruan, 8.5 — Ruan was everywhere today. He made a couple of early mistakes, but did well to quickly clean both of them up himself before impressing with a very well-timed slide tackle, making a joint-high two to go along with two interceptions and one clearance. The change in shape should have meant Ruan had slightly more defensive duties than normal but that didn’t stop him bombing forward — he was ever-present on the overlap, was second on the team for touches with 91, and attempted nine crosses — fewer only than Nani. Excluding substitutes, he also led the team in passing accuracy with 94.4% on 54 attempts, and it was his cutback to Sacha Kljestan that created the goal. If it wasn’t for Nani, he’d be my Man of the Match (spoilers!).
MF, Uri Rosell, 8 — Yes it’s perhaps largely down to Vancouver’s lack of interest in coming out of its bunker, but Uri’s return to midfield coincided with Orlando’s season high in possession, with 61%. The team’s average before today was just under 50%. The Lions dominated the ball and Rosell saw a large part of that, leading the team with a massive 101 touches. He was a cool head in dictating play, completing 89.7% of his 97 passes (the next highest was Méndez, with 69), and he was effective in preventing the out-ball when Vancouver tried to clear, helping keep the pressure on. The tackling was occasionally sloppy, leading the team in fouls with three, but that’s nitpicking on an otherwise accomplished performance.
MF, Sebas Méndez, 7.5 — Méndez played off to the right of Rosell, helping to provide a link to both Chris Mueller and Ruan, as well as cover for the Brazilian fullback. He made 92.8% of his 69 passes, second-most on the team, and led the team in interceptions, with three, stopping the counters that the Whitecaps were probing for. The 21-year-old had a confident performance in a box-to-box role in a midfield that did not include Kljestan for the first time in the Ecuadorian’s time with Orlando, playing in the same pockets of space that Kljestan usually occupies. O’Connor might have some thinking to do for his next lineup.
MF, Will Johnson, 6 — The quietest of the midfield trio, Johnson registered one interception, one clearance, and only made 34 passes in his 75 minutes before subbing out for Kljestan, but completed 94.1% of them, second among starters. His 44 touches were fewer only than Dwyer among outfield starters. The Canadian also took two shots, neither on target, and drew three fouls while committing none. He didn’t do much but when he did, he did it well for the most part. He’s probably fortunate the Lions got the win though because had they not, he’s likely called out as a passenger.
F, Nani, 8.5 (MotM) — Practically everything that happened did so through Nani and he showed O’Connor why he can’t spend two thirds of the game on the bench. He seemed to have the beating of former Lion Sutter but didn’t have as much luck against South Korean international Hwang In-Beom in an interesting, reoccurring battle as the Whitecaps were determined to leave Orlando with a point, doubling up on Orlando’s wingers to prevent any service from a team that’s known to play wide. It was frustrating to watch him continually put his foot on the ball and slow play down as is his stop-start method of taking on defenders to limited success. The brightest spot was when he was allowed to put his foot on the gas and stretch his legs, streaking away on the counter before eventually feeding Mueller, only to fire a shot off on the ricochet. He was also a danger from set pieces as always and it felt like as the game went on, he eventually had to find the breakthrough. Ironically, the scoresheet says he did but he knew little about the Kljestan shot that he managed to deflect into the opposite corner from where it was heading as he attempted to get out of the way. He led the team in shots (4) and shots on goal (2).
F, Chris Mueller, 7 — Mueller was Orlando’s second most dispossessed player, losing the ball six times, but that’s the nature of the position. Nani is first on the list as he lost possession seven times with both wingers regularly facing up to two, if not three, Whitecaps players who nearly escaped Central Florida with a point thanks to their defensive approach. Mueller’s 78% pass completion was only good enough for 11th on the team and none of his six crosses found a Lion, but it’s par for the course in these situations. He looked better than he did last week as O’Connor started his super sub for a second consecutive game.
F, Dom Dwyer, 5 — Dwyer had a quiet first half to say the least, it took 20 minutes for me to realize he was in the game and his first bit of action was to overrun a Nani chip that would’ve gifted him a header from five yards out. He came out flying in the opening minutes of the second half to get an early shot in that was blocked and that was pretty much it in his 71 minutes. Overall he struggled to make an impact against a Whitecaps side that took a cautious approach to their third game in seven days, registering seven touches, five passes at 60% accuracy and failed to win an aerial challenge.
F, Tesho Akindele (72’), 7 — This was Akindele’s first substitute appearance as a Lion as O’Connor recognized Dwyer’s ineffectiveness against Vancouver’s low block and decided to swap in an aerial threat. The 6-foot-1 Canadian was targeted soon after he came on, nodding a Moutinho cross over the bar. In his 20-minute run-out he had 10 touches, three more than Dwyer, and completed all four of his passes.
MF, Sacha Kljestan (76’), 7.5 — Kljestan was benched for only the second time in O’Connor’s reign but had an early look at goal two minutes into his substitute appearance as he could only drag a volley wide. He strung a few passing sequences together well as he looked to unpick an ever-retreating Vancouver back line and was the grateful recipient of a Ruan pullback as he made a late run into the box, seeing his shot slice off Nani and nestle into the bottom corner to take all three points. He managed a strong 20 passes, one of them deemed key, in his 15-minute cameo.
D, Kyle Smith (90+8’), N/A — Smith was an extremely late defensive substitute as the Lions looked to cling on to the win (and waste some time), He was credited with two touches. I blinked and missed them both. In such a short spell, it’s unfair to hand him a grade.
So, there you have it. There’s nothing like being able to give out good grades with that winning feeling. Who was your Man of the Match for today? Don’t forget to vote in the poll below with your choice and leave a comment with your thoughts!
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