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Center Backs Lead Orlando City’s Improved Defense

How well have the Lions’ three primary center backs done in 2020?

Orlando City Soccer vs. Columbus Crew Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Much of 2020 has been a bit of a bummer to say the least. Sure, we all watched Tiger King, but that was just an ugly mirror on 2020 itself. Ted Lasso provided us with a break in the clouds that allowed the sun to shine on our faces and our hearts, but dang it, we have to wait for the second season! Fortunately, Orlando City is having a historic year that has offered a more sustained sense of goodness ever since the start of the MLS is Back Tournament.

There are many reasons for the Lions’ success this season, and I know that we here at The Mane Land will address them all in good time. In fact, you can check out a great article on Daryl Dike’s monster year from new contributor Christopher Adams. However, I want to switch to the other end of the pitch and take a look a Orlando City’s center back pairings, and what they have contributed to the Lions this season.

In 2018, Orlando City had a porous defense that allowed 74 goals in 34 matches. That’s a rate of 2.18 per match. In 2019, the Lions vastly improved, thanks to the center back pairing of Lamine Sané and the newly acquired Robin Jansson. That defense only allowed 52 goals in 34 matches for a rate of 1.59 per match. That is some serious improvement, but despite being a great player for Orlando City, Sané’s price tag was a little high. As such, Luiz Muzzi and Ricardo Moreira knew they could get more bang for the buck. Enter Antônio Carlos and Rodrigo Schlegel.

The front office and new boss Óscar Pareja liked what they had in Jansson. The Beefy Swede not only played well, but he had the attitude, experience, and leadership they wanted as they brought in the younger guys. The only question was whether that chemistry he and Sané displayed would bloom with Carlos and/or Schlegel? The MLS is Back Tournament answered that question for us. Despite a slow start, Carlos came on quickly and was often the better of the two center backs in any given match. I would argue that they generally complement each other, but the stats don’t lie. Schlegel has been good when called into service as well.

In 2020, Jansson has 111 clearances, 24 blocks, 22 interceptions, and 21 tackles in 1,980 minutes of play. Carlos has 110 clearances, 15 blocks, 59 interceptions, and 16 tackles in 1,634 minutes of play. Additionally, Schlegel has been able to step in, allowing for Orlando City to rotate the position, or deal with injuries. Schlegel has 36 clearances, five blocks, five interceptions, and 20 tackles in only 645 minutes of play.

That’s a lot of numbers, but the three have contributed to an Orlando City central defense that has only allowed 25 goals in 23 matches, which is a rate of 1.09 goals per match. That is half the amount of goals per match allowed in 2018. That is an astounding accomplishment. Of course, fullbacks, keepers, defensive midfielders, and others are a part of that, but the center backs are the heart of the defense.

Now to address the set piece frustration that many supporters are feeling. It turns out that five of the 25 goals allowed in 2020 came directly from set pieces. A few more came from a recycled ball following a set piece. Additionally, there were two more set piece goals allowed in the MLS is Back Tournament — both in the final against Portland. While that’s not great, it is a problem the club is aware of, and hopefully Pareja has a plan to address it heading into the playoffs.

Despite recent fan frustration with the club giving up late goals, the improvement of Orlando City’s defense overall, and the center backs in particular, is one of the reasons that the Lions will be hosting their first playoff match in the MLS era.