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Set Piece Defending Vital Against Miami

Orlando needs to be better defending dead ball situations as regular season play resumes.

Portland Timbers v Orlando City SC: Championship - MLS Is Back Tournament Photo by Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos/Getty Images

In the final of the MLS is Back Tournament, both goals that Orlando conceded came from set pieces. The first came from a Portland free kick when Joao Moutinho lost a battle with Larrys Mabiala, and the second was the result of a corner kick that saw Eryk Williamson left completely unmarked roughly 15 yards out at the back post. While Dario Zuparic was the one who eventually put the ball in the back of the net, the amount of time that Williamson had to settle the ball and make a decision on what to do without being pressured was what ultimately doomed the Lions.

Considering the marking match-up of Moutinho vs. Mabiala it might seem a bit harsh to nitpick the first goal too much. Mabiala has several inches and about 20 pounds on Moutinho, so even if Joao played the ball absolutely perfectly there was always a good chance things wouldn’t end well for the Lions. Rather than put the blame squarely on his shoulders, it may simply be a case of OCSC needing to try and pick more even match-ups when it comes to defending. While the team may not be able to pick perfectly matched markers across the board, giving Moutinho the task of defending one of the opposition’s 6-foot-2 center backs probably isn’t a recipe for success.

As far as the second goal is concerned, there is absolutely no excuse on the planet that can justify the closest defender to Williamson being roughly five yards away when the ball is delivered to him in the box on a corner kick. That simply comes down to OCSC needing to do a better job marking on set pieces period. A large part of defending set pieces is about attention to detail and just making sure that there are enough guys to pick up opposition players. Orlando seemed to have been doing a mix of zonal and man-to-man marking on the corner kick, but Williamson somehow ended up completely unaccounted for until plenty of damage had already been done. Even once the Lions defenders realized the danger, they were collectively a little too slow to react and while the goal ended up being a sloppy one, it came largely due to an OCSC mistake.

Something that further throws defending dead ball situations into the spotlight is the type of game we saw the last time these two teams faced off. It was a pretty chippy affair when Orlando and Miami opened up the MLS is Back Tournament, with the Lions committing 17 fouls and Miami recording 12. Part of that might be due to rust from the long layoff between competitive matches, but if that sort of physical play carries over into tomorrow’s match then there could very well be a number of set pieces in dangerous areas. If that’s the case then OCSC is 100% going to need to be better at defending them than it was against Portland, which I think the team is capable of doing.

If Orlando is to continue with the kind of form that it was in for most of the tournament (and the team certainly has the ability to do so) then its going to need to clean up its defending in dead ball situations. For the most part OCSC did a good job when it came to defending during open play, even though the way the team prefers to attack naturally presents the opposition with some chances. If the Lions can play to the same defensive level during set pieces as the run of play then it should be a successful night.