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Orlando City vs. Montreal Impact, Preseason: Five Takeaways

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What can we glean from the Lions’ first public appearance under Oscar Pareja?

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City “got the dub” (as Benji Michel put it) on Saturday night against the Montreal Impact at Exploria Stadium in the team’s first public display under Oscar Pareja. While it would be foolish to try to make any assumptions about the team from one preseason game that likely lacked any game-planning or film study of any kind, there were some things on display in the Lions’ 1-0 victory that are worthy of discussion.

Here are some of the things that stood out to me from Saturday’s preseason win:

Formation is Fluid

It’s common for a formation to look different when the team has the ball vs. when the opponent has it, but it was clear on Saturday that fluidity is part of the system Oscar Pareja has brought to Orlando. The gaffer took advantage of Ruan’s speed and attacking prowess against Montreal and when the Lions had the ball, the back line was a three-man look for the most part, with Kamal Miller, Rodrigo Schlegel, and Antonio Carlos holding down the fort. Michel, who played mostly in an outside forward role on the right last year, was deeper on the field on the left side and the second-year Homegrown Player served in sort of a left wingback role to mirror what Ruan was doing on the right. The highest trio of players — Nani, Dom Dwyer, and Mauricio Pereyra — swapped positions on the field often, weaving together with short, quick passes in the final third.

The chemistry needs a little more work and time to completely come together, and the players still need to anticipate switching play when deep runners get open, but if (or when) things start to click, the attack will have a lot more teeth in it, as forwards and midfielders alike will start to pop in behind the defense.

“We’ll just keep going, keep building,” Pareja said of his team after Saturday’s game. “We just have 21, 22 (training) sessions and most of those have been with the fitness content, so we’ll keep building slowly. It’s a long journey.”

Athleticism on the Back Line

Carlos, Schlegel, and Miller are all quite mobile and agile and did well for the most part on defense. Ruan will always cheat forward and then use his speed to recover and track back, which he did on Saturday and was mostly successful at it with the exception of a couple of overly casual giveaways once he’d won the ball. Miller also had some dangerous giveaways on the left, so perhaps they just need more time in the system to clean that up. The center backs seem to have good movement, looked good in the air, and considering how little time they’ve spent together, they appeared to have some chemistry already. Robin Jansson was a great find last year, but his movement doesn’t compare favorably to that of Schlegel or Carlos. I would think Carlos is a favorite to be a first-team choice so it’s nice to know that if his partner ends up being Schlegel or Jansson, it provides a good depth player either way.

Pedro Gallese Looks the Part

He wasn’t called into action that often, but Gallese appeared to be the real deal in his first public outing for Orlando City. He made a couple of big saves but mainly what was impressive was his positioning and ability to read the play. The Peruvian international had command of his box and said he is already building chemistry with the defenders in front of him.

“The communication between me and Rodrigo and Antonio and the entire team is really good,” Gallese said through an interpreter. “I think it’s very important for us to get to know each other as a group, because that’s going to help us to build more confidence.

El Pulpo should be fun to watch this season but if the lack of chances Montreal generated is a sign of things to come (aside from when the Impact threw numbers forward late in the game against several substitutes in the midfield and at right back), it’ll be nice if his teammates don’t give him too much to do.

Emphasis on Movement

One thing that stuck out on Saturday in the tactics department was how quickly the Lions moved the ball. There was a lot of one-touch passing, particularly in the attacking third, and the ball was constantly on the move. It looked quite different from the way Orlando probed the perimeter last season.

“I wouldn’t say one-touch, but (Pareja says to) keep it simple and move the ball fast,” Michel said after Saturday’s game of the teams mindset in possession. “Just keeping the play as simple as possible.”

There will be some turnovers until the players become more attuned to where their teammates will be and where they like to receive the ball — Nani in particular had some ball security issues on Saturday — but Orlando can be a lot better in terms of possession in 2020 once that gets ironed out. Montreal did a good job of pressing in the midfield and anticipating shorter passes, so the Lions will need to vary their attack and take advantage of overly aggressive pressure to get the ball in behind.

Ball Winners Win Balls

Junior Urso and Uri Rosell were quick to pressure after turnovers to win the ball back and prevent Montreal’s counter from getting going most of the night. Orji Okwonkwo had one or two opportunities, and Miller did need to make a tactical foul to break up one counter after a Nani turnover, but for the most part the central midfielders did a good job of slowing down the Impact’s ability to transition or forcing things wide with the help of Carlos and Schlegel so that Ruan and Miller had time to track back to slow things down. Players like Michel and Pereyra were also able to quickly drop and help funnel Montreal’s possession out wide or to force the Impact to play balls backward. It’s only one game, and it’s unclear how good Montreal’s attack will be, but it was an encouraging sign that the Lions may be able to build on last year’s progress in developing as a defensive unit.

Those are the primary things I noticed on Saturday. I’m not overly concerned about the lack of chance creation as Montreal played a well-organized match and there was no real game-planning involved. Now that the fitness-building portion of preseason training is giving way to more emphasis on tactics and style of play, the chemistry and sharpness should improve. The Lions were inches from breaking in on goal several times but a defensive toe in the way, a ball slightly behind, or a bounce at just the wrong time prevented forwards from getting in 1-v-1 on Evan Bush on multiple occasions.

For those of you who turned out for the match, what stood out to you? Let us know in the comments below.