Well, how is everyone feeling after that 1-1 draw for the Lions in Yankee Stadium? I know I’m a little disappointed because the three points were there for the taking. The good guys couldn’t capitalize on it and will only be bringing a single point back home. A point is a point though, especially on the road in Major League Soccer. Let’s take a look at the five biggest takeaways from the match.
O’Connor’s Lineup Finally Showing Consistency
For the first time since the second game of the season, Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor only made one change to the starting XI — Tesho Akindele as the striker with Dom Dwyer on the bench, reportedly due to a small knock he took in training this week. Honestly, I tend to think it also has to do with Dwyer failing to show up far too many times in recent matches. Sure, he entered technically averaging a goal or assist every 82 minutes this season. Statistics often don’t tell the whole story, however. I’d point to the number of sitters Dwyer hasn’t converted (including one of the easiest chances he may ever see as a professional soccer player in the second half of this match), the opportunities he’s squandered by flopping and looking for a foul, and how much better at hold-up play Akindele has been so far. Another nice thing to see with the starting lineup is the same back line, something that’s only occurred three times in O’Connor’s 26 matches as gaffer.
Lack of Communication Continues to Confuse the Defense
A recurring theme throughout pretty much all Orlando City’s time in MLS has been a noticeable lack of defensive cohesion. Obviously, O’Connor’s constant rotation of center backs certainly doesn’t help that. A very apparent lack of communication between the defensive line and goalkeeper, and even the midfielders as they come back to defend, is perhaps the most sizable problem currently. This reared its head multiple times in Saturday’s draw, and nearly led to goals for New York City FC from a couple of those errors. Starting in the sixth minute, no one played or called for a ball that was loose in front of keeper Brian Rowe. At minute 26, there was total chaos and a sense of panic when trying to clear a ball at the top of box — again with no one taking control of the situation.
Center back Lamine Sané had to make a desperate recovery tackle on NYCFC forward Héber in the 30th after losing him with no support. The scariest blunder came in minute 36, when CB Robin Jansson and left back Joao Moutinho got burned by Ismael Tajouri-Shradi and Rowe came way out of his goal, leaving the net open as Tajouri-Shradi pulled his shot wide.No one tracked Héber’s run into the box for his 51st minute goal, as all of the Orlando City defenders were caught ball watching, again not communicating, when the rebound came out off of Rowe’s incredible save. Several more times in the second half, minutes 62, 64, and 75 for sure, there was a total lack of communication leading to an inability to clear the ball out of dangerous areas. It simply has to improve or I fear the defensive errors will become insurmountable as the team continues to squander points.
Attackers Still Too Hesitant to Pull the Trigger
Unfortunately, I watched this match with the NYCFC broadcast and as I was taking yet another note about the attacking Lions failing to pull the trigger and shoot the ball, the commentator said the same thing. You know it’s too frequent of a problem when the opposing team’s analysts point it out. Chris Mueller’s first-half performance was definitely the standout culprit in this match. He took far too many touches on an opportunity in the 10th and chose to cross it to Akindele when he was 1-v-1 with Sean Johnson in the 33rd. Of course, Akindele did put it in the back of the net for Orlando City’s second goal that was ultimately overturned after video review. Mueller danced with the ball at the top of the box for far too long again in the 43rd, wasting at least one shot opportunity. The only other glaring failure to pull the trigger I saw was actually on Nani at minute 44, when he made the decision to cut the ball back instead of taking the shot himself. You can’t score if you don’t shoot, and the Lions’ front line has to be more willing to take shots at any possible chance.
Ruan Starting to Show Wear and Tear
Anyone who’s watched any match with Ruan in the right back role knows that he runs his legs off and plays his heart out for every second he’s on the pitch, sort of like the defensive version of Mueller. That’s what we all love to see as fans, and I’m sure what O’Connor and his staff love to see as coaches. The issue is the wear and tear it’s taking on Ruan himself. There were several times in last week’s victory over Vancouver Whitecaps that I noticed Ruan grab at his back, squat down in discomfort, or just generally look exhausted. He started doing the same things early on today too. By minute 17, Ruan was down on the sideline and stretching his back and legs for the second time already. He was then visibly limping in the 23rd. I know backup right back Kyle Smith is very clearly not in the same class as Ruan, but I don’t see how O’Connor is going to be able to continue to push Ruan without giving him a rest soon.
Orlando City’s Best Attack Comes From the Right Side
Having said that about Ruan, he has been the source of Orlando’s best attacking chances of late. His speed down the right side has been absolutely unmatched and no defender has been able to deal with it this season. That speed saw the setup for Saturday’s lone goal, when Ruan’s cross into the box at minute 18 was poorly dealt with by NYCFC and Nani was able to slam in the shot. Ten minutes later, Ruan started another attack down the right that led to a shot on goal and save by Sean Johnson. The second half is where the wear and tear issue came into play. Ruan was making fewer runs down the right anymore, forcing Orlando City to try to lob the ball downfield over and over and over again with zero success. The exception came on Dwyer’s miss, when the Brazilian blazed past the defense and put a perfect cross on Dom’s head. Since the right-sided attack has proven it works, O’Connor has to do something to ensure the health of the only man in purple, Ruan, that can start said attack.
There’s always so much more that can be said about the Lions, whether they win, lose, or draw. Those were the five things I saw as the most important takeaways from our second draw with NYCFC this year. Here’s hoping necessary improvements will be made before Toronto FC knocks on the door of Orlando City Stadium next Saturday.