Last night, the Lions returned home after being away and took three points from the Vancouver Whitecaps. In what was a homecoming for Scott Sutter, who I have to say looked much better in purple, the Lions were able to grind one out and walk away with three much-needed points. Much needed for the team, much needed for the fans, and much needed for the larger picture of the playoffs. That being said, what are the five things that we can take away from the match?
Lions Pass Gut Check Test
From 45 minutes before the match, when the lineups were announced, it was fairly obvious how each team was going to progress. Vancouver was going to bunker and hope to utilize the counter attack and catch Orlando sitting too high on the attack, or take advantage of the back line when Ruan or Joao Moutinho had pushed too far forward. The defense did well to communicate and cover and held Vancouver to only six shots, with only two on target. With all of the frustration that the Whitecaps generated, the Lions did fairly well to not force things and played the passing game until good opportunities presented themselves.
Middle Needs to Stay Compact
Throughout the match, Moutinho and Ruan looked frustrated and held back. This was not due to the fact that Vancouver was playing a five-man back line, but that it appeared that Orlando City was running over its own players’ lanes at times on the wings. Instead of staying compact in the middle, the Lions drifted with the ball out to the wings, and too often players looked to get in the way of the fullbacks making runs. Yes, the Lions appeared to be more focused on a 4-3-3 formation, but the middle three were well equipped to cover for any outside fullback runs, except those runs seemed a bit stymied by other Lions as opposed to the Whitecaps.
Rowe is Better than you Think
Go ahead and come at me, but Brian Rowe is starting to grow on me, grow on this team, and grow between the posts. Everyone needs to take a step back and remember that the City keeper has had multiple back lines in the eight matches this season. If one thing is clear, the communication between keeper and center backs is critical to the success of the defensive squad. As the season is progressing, the communication and bond between the back line and Rowe is getting better, which in turn makes everyone better, including Rowe. Or maybe he was always a good option, but the chaotic nature of the back line made him look like a worse option than actual.
Dom May Not be the Needed Striker
This might be the most controversial takeaway, but Dom may not be the right striker for the two formations of choice we have seen. Whether the Lions come out in a true 3-5-2, or the malleable 4-3-3 we saw yesterday, there is a lot of hold up play dependent upon the strikers. As a continuation of last season, most center backs seem to know just how to deal with Dom, and that would be physically. Don’t get me wrong, Dom is a great striker, but in the current model playing out on the pitch, he is much better suited if paired with a dangerous, and tall, target striker. Tesho Akindele maybe? But then who do you take off the pitch to pair Dom up with that tall, target striker? I would honestly say that Dom may be better coming off the bench, after the center backs have been beat up a little.
Rosell and Mendez were Great
The Vancouver strategy called for maintaining a compact and organized defensive shape, which is frustrating for the attacking players but also puts pressure on the defensive midfielders and defenders to prevent danger on the counter attack and to win the ball back after clearances. Uri Rosell and Sebas Mendez played an excellent game in the Orlando midfield, combining for a whopping 185 touches (101 by Rosell alone). Rosell played a bit deeper, finishing with a tackle and a clearance, while Mendez had three interceptions and two tackles. Mendez’s 92.8% passing accuracy was only a few percentage points below the leader among the starters — Ruan’s 94.4%. Rosell was at 90% on a team-high 97 attempts. The duo tracked down loose balls in the midfield and played relentlessly, helping shuttle the ball left to right and back as the Lions probed and tried to find an opening in the tight Vancouver defense.
Those are the five things that I walked away with. As much as I was hoping the sixth would be a Parley kit, I was a little too focused on the match and debating with the crew around me at halftime to try to grab one. That match had me riding a roller coaster all afternoon, and what a way to send the home crowd away for the remainder of the holiday weekend. What did you take away from the 1-0 win against the Whitecaps? Let us know in the comments.