It was always going to be a tough match-up with the Quakes’ 11-match undefeated home streak, but Orlando City still had to try to take something from Avaya Stadium last night with the season winding down and points at a premium. So what did we learn from the Lions’ 3-0 loss at the hands of San Jose?
Early Goals are Killers
You could see the wind just get sucked right out of the squad after that first San Jose goal. The club looked flat from the opening kickoff, never finding any rhythm or clicking at all. Giving up two more goals to Chris Wondolowski only helped to stress and stretch the Lions even further. San Jose had the Lions on their heels for the entire first 45 minutes, and they were never able to recover.
San Jose Likes to Keep the Ball
The Earthquakes held a 63% possession advantage after the first 45 minutes. Statistics like this aren’t completely foreign to football matches. There have been numerous teams that build their match tactics around holding shape, bunkering down, and waiting for the perfect time to spring a counter. Unfortunately, this is not what the Lions are built for. San Jose had its way with the ball the first half. The second half saw a bit more of a balanced match, but the Quakes had done all of the damage that they needed to do. Some of the shift may be because the Quakes took a little pressure of the gas pedal. At least it wasn’t the 75% that Vancouver conceded to San Jose last week.
Coach James O’Connor showed no hesitation in making two changes coming out of halftime, with Tesho Akindele coming on for Benji Michel and the long-awaited return of Cristian Higuita for Carlos Ascues. Both players injected some life into the squad, as well as whatever O’Connor said to the boys in the locker room. Tesho did well to hold up the ball up top, and Higuita played just as he always had while a Lion — hard. In the 71st minute, Chris Mueller came on for Nani, who looked to take a hard knee directly into his calf muscle and was not able to run the knock off. Mueller and Higuita were both able to total one shot, while Higuita led the team with a pass rate of 97%. The team’s shape was better, possession was greatly improved, and the overall quality was improved, but as has been nagging the Lions off and on all season, even the injection of fresh bodies will only do so much when you aren’t sharp in the final third.
One Lousy Shot on Goal Won’t Cut It
Winning regular-season games without scoring goals is impossible and it’s extremely difficult to score goals when shots aren’t hitting the target. Orlando mustered only one shot on target in the entire match — Uri Rosell’s first-half effort from distance that didn’t trouble Daniel Vega much. The Lions’ away game strategy doesn’t present many offensive opportunities, which makes each one crucial. Getting a result with only one shot on target is a rarity and the Lions failed to hit the winning lottery number with their effort last night.
Uncharacteristic Defensive Lapses
It’s one thing to give up a transition goal. That’s going to happen sometimes. When there’s a sudden change of possession the team can get caught out of shape or stretched and it provides lots of space for the opposition to get in behind and score goals — like on Chris Wondolowski’s first goal. But an Orlando back line that has been pretty stout for most of 2019 made uncharacteristic mistakes that cost the Lions on the two other goals.
On San Jose’s first, Magnus Eriksson feinted like he was going to pass off and that made Robin Jansson hesitate for just a split second — enough time for Eriksson to blow past him and fire a shot past Brian Rowe. On Wondo’s second goal (San Jose’s third), Lamine Sané got caught ball watching and was marking only space while the league’s all-time leading goal scorer just stood alone in front of the net, waiting for Cristian Espinoza’s pass. Neither of those goals covered the back line in glory and it was difficult to watch Jansson and Sané cough up cheap goals when they’ve done such a good job all year at limiting those.
How many more times will we have to talk about the “tale of two halves” with this club? The first half was very chaotic and slow from the Lions, with a complete turnaround in the second. It also doesn’t help when five of your nine shots come from defensive players. It’s time to regroup and find a plan to deal with LAFC, including filling the holes left by all the players being called up for international duty.