Orlando City made its first visit to Nippert Stadium needing a win and some help from others around the country to stay in the playoff hunt — but also needing to shake the specter of one of the club records. It needed just one goal to hand over the MLS’s worst goals against record to FC Cincinnati. I think the entirety of Lion Nation wants to thank Benji Michel for that stoppage time effort and shaking at least one monkey off of the club’s back. So here are our five takeaways from the 1-1 draw in Orlando’s last road game of the year.
A Failure to Communicate
During the first half, the Lions looked extremely disjointed and not on the same page, at all. Players made runs, lanes opened up through the middle, but the Lions just did not see them. You could see the frustration mounting throughout the first half as a few players — notably Nani, Will Johnson, and Lamine Sané — were demonstrably vocal in their frustration. Compound this with FC Cincinnati holding its defensive shape very well, and it became a rough outing for Orlando.
Nani Needed Some Time
If ever there was a match for Nani to show up, rile the hackles of the starting XI, start something big, and lead by example, this match was certainly it. Nani looked a little flat in the open run of play, looking for cheeky flicks and blind passes that rarely found anyone except a player in blue and orange. His run back to stop the FCC counter attack in the 51st minute was critical as Orlando was dangerously out of shape to defend. Then, after substitutions and a shift in the shape to a 4-2-3-1, Nani finally seemed to get the team thinking a little clearly and led a much more dangerous attack with Mauricio Pereyra, albeit in the final minutes of the match.
Predictable Passes Caused Headaches
Although Sebas Mendez ended the first half with a solid 88% passer rating, FCC certainly knew that the vast majority of his passes go right back where they came from, with very few passes going forward. FCC was able to pressure this very effectively in the first half and the beginning of the second. Take a look at the passing maps below as a comparison of Sebas and Pereyra.
There are a massive amount of passes going left to right for Mendez, or return to sender, but not much press and push. Also note how many forward passes were not completed, as part of a paltry team passer rating of 78%.
Sloppy Tackles and Late Physicality
There are professional fouls, ones that need to be taken at the right moment and right time to slow the match down a bit, and then there are the fouls that the Lions were committing during the match. The Lions were called for 14 fouls while FCC was called for only seven. I do think the yellows shown to Mendez, Robin Jansson, and Kyle Smith were pretty fair. The match was certainly a bit chippy, and too often the Lions were just a bit late, or just a bit too direct. The Lions defended the set pieces created by their poor fouls well, but they certainly gave up too many, too close, and almost caused a penalty kick.
Subs to the Rescue Again
As mentioned earlier, thank you Benji Michel and Chris Mueller for the spark you brought to the pitch. As with the starting XI, it took a little while for things to get rolling but the combination of Benji and Cash, combined with the shift in formation, made a huge difference on the pitch. Kyle Smith, who came on for Joao Moutinho in the 14th minute due to an injury (and we all collectively hope it is not the same hamstring injury that has plagued him this season), played a fantastic match. The Lions have needed their substitutes to perform this season, and I believe that they have.
It was another tough match to watch, made even harder by the updates from around the Eastern Conference all match. One monkey is off the club’s back, but it certainly needs to find a way to shake more off and quickly. It will be interesting to see how the club will now handle the final match of 2019.