Orlando City kicked off its 2020 season Saturday night, allowing fans to see the team in a competitive match for the first time this year. New Head Coach Oscar Pareja displayed his team and strategy for the first time in a competitive game and it showed one important fact; the defensive midfield position will be one of the most important on the team.
Prior to the 2019 season, the Lions brought in Brazilian right back Ruan. The first noticeable attribute of the player was his tremendous speed. Under James O’Connor, the outside backs would push forward into the attack. This resulted in people seeing Ruan dart forward into the opposing half. Occasionally, he would get toward the end line and send balls into the box. Pareja has decided to take advantage of this asset.
As they did during much of the preseason, the Lions have two distinctly different formations on offense and defense. While the team usually plays in a 4-5-1 defensively, they leave just three defenders back in the attack, sending Ruan forward. This has the potential to create problems defensively as more responsibility is placed on those three defenders. It can leave spots open in the defense that the opposition can take advantage of.
It’s not unusual to see outside backs in MLS push forward and be included in the attack, but Orlando City is taking it to a different level. Ruan can often be seen near the opposing end line, sending balls in for the forward to connect with. His tremendous speed will usually allow him to get back before the opposition can take the numbers advantage. However, he still needs the time to get back and a quick turnover can cause trouble.
Just like sending defenders forward is common for Orlando City, so is losing the ball in the middle third of the field. Lack of accuracy or crispness of passes often leads to a turnover around midfield. Since Ruan is already into the attack, the Lions have already gotten into their offensive position by the time the ball has been turned over. Depending on how quickly the opposition is able to turn on the counter attack, Ruan might not have time to get back and defend.
A major part of the defensive midfield position is to slow down an opposing attack. Playing between the back line and attacking midfielders, this position is tasked with helping build the attack and breaking down an opposing counter attack. When the opposing team has numbers, their role is intensified. With Ruan often in the opposition’s final third, the other team will likely have numbers on any counter attack.
The player in this vital position will typically be Sebas Mendez or Uri Rosell. While they’re important at any point in the game, they will especially play a key role late in the game. Ruan is being asked to run a lot in the 90 minutes. No matter how fit a player is, running that much will take its toll. That was seen on Saturday night as Ruan got tired later in the game and suffered from cramping before coming off in the second half’s stoppage time.
As Ruan gets tired, it will take him longer to get back into his defensive position. The defensive midfielder will be depended upon to break down the attack. This might mean committing a professional foul, which will usually result in a booking. However, this is a necessity to avoid giving up goals.
Orlando City has shown an aggressive approach so far this season. Sending Ruan so far forward in the attack will make one of the most important players on the team the one deployed in the number six position. Strong play at that position will be key to the Lions’ success this season.