In a case of so near, yet so far from three points on the road, Orlando City once again snatched a draw from the jaws victory on the road in a hauntingly similar result to the Week 2 stalemate in Chicago for more reasons than one.
What seems like a solid point away at the Eastern Conference leaders, a team that four days ago turned up to Orlando’s house and competently put the Lions away, is tinged with disappointment, given the late nature of the Union’s equalizer.
However, given the context of the midweek result, yesterday’s postponement, the impending U.S. Open Cup fixture, and the team James O’Connor chose to put out, I’ve decided to try and remain positive for the most part, considering it’s more than I expected the Lions to come away with — not least given the fast start the Union made with a fourth-minute opener. It would’ve been easy for heads to drop and the game plan to go out of the window but City stuck with it and battled back.
Better Finishers than Starters (Usually)
Marco Fabián’s fourth-minute header was the eighth goal Orlando City has conceded in the opening 15 minutes of games this season — roughly 30% of all goals allowed. Meanwhile, the Lions have only scored once in that window in 2019 — Chris Mueller’s opener in the home loss to Philadelphia on Wednesday. It’s a concerning stat that extends to being outscored 13–3 in the opening half hour of games. Now, switch that to the second half and Orlando City actually has a positive goal difference, outscoring its opponents 18–11 and scoring a hefty 52% of its goals in the final half hour of games.
I don’t know whether that speaks to systematic game-planning or just collective concentration levels but a faster start would logically be beneficial to a team that has conceded first in 12 of 19, averaging 0.58 points per game when doing so but average 2.00 points per game when scoring first.
Orlando has been better this season in killing off matches, but the Union showed quality in being able to flip the script and score the late equalizer like Chicago did early in the year.
Dwyer’s Fifth Goal Puts Four in the Club
Dom Dwyer’s goal Sunday brought his total to five for the season. That means he now joins Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele, and Nani as Orlando City players with at least five goals in MLS so far this season. Why is that significant, you ask? At the start of the season, one of my predictions was that Orlando City would have three players with 10+ goals for the first time, despite having only seen two Lions hit double figures in the same season once in MLS.
With 19 games played, we’re a little over halfway and not exactly on schedule for that prediction to come true, but it’s promising to see that already at this stage in the season, four Orlando players have five goals. Only two managed that many over the course of the entire 2018 season (Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan) and you have to go back to 2016 to find as many as four bag at least five goals in MLS.
Santi Opens His Account
Huge congratulations are in order for 2019 MLS SuperDraft signing Santiago Patiño, who opened his professional scoring account Sunday. The rookie came on late for Dwyer just as Nani was lining up a corner kick, and he made his impact with his very first touch. Mueller’s point-blank free header was well saved by Andre Blake, who reached back against his momentum to make the stop, but the Jamaican international couldn’t keep from spilling it. The ball barely had time to hit the field before Patino knocked it in on a classic poacher’s goal.
Kacper Przybyłko is a Pain
With a brace on Wednesday and a late game-tying goal on Sunday, Kacper Przybyłko has emerged as the latest pain in Orlando City’s collective neck, joining other such pests as Ignacio Piatti, Kei Kamara, Maxi Moralez, and others. The Polish international had an outstanding series against Orlando and it’s clear that the Lions struggled to keep him properly marked. His movement and accuracy were on full display on the tying goal in the 90th minute.
O’Connor’s Approach to Rotation Almost Worked
The trip to Philadelphia saw James O’Connor make nine changes to his starting lineup — the third most this year behind the 11 made during the trip out West to Seattle and the subsequent 10 changes on the return to Orlando for the 5–1 thumping of FC Cincinnati in the following game. This is an extremely busy four week stretch for the team and O’Connor is making a concerted effort to not run his first choice team into the ground.
Deciding to field a second-string team and trust his depth to try and grind out a result, it’s the exact same game plan deployed earlier in the season away at Real Salt Lake: hang in the game and bring your game changers on in the second half. Sunday it worked to near perfection, with a goal and an assist credited to substitutes. Nani, who was already top five in MLS in goals and assists per 90 before registering another assist at Philadelphia, entered on the 60-minute mark while game-winner Santiago Patiño entered in the 81st minute. The only downside was the defensive side of the ball as the team was caught out both super early and super late on in the game.
It’s a strategy not to everyone’s taste, as there are some who just want to see the strongest lineup play from the off and go flat out for the full 90 every game but that’s a checkers mentality in a game of chess. O’Connor is clearly of the mindset that a short-sighted view like that would be to the long-term detriment of the team and he trusts his depth to implement his strategy — something he was keen to emphasize when he was rebuilding the roster in the off-season. That isn’t to say he doesn’t want to win every game, but it does change the way you go about it and Sunday was minutes away from being proof of concept.
Although Sunday was an extreme example given the short schedule, in the grander scheme O’Connor has averaged 3.57 changes per lineup and has only ever gone unchanged in consecutive games twice in his 36 league games in charge.
Did you spot anything else? Let us know your own takeaways from Orlando’s longer-than-expected trip to Philadelphia in the comments section below!