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Orlando City’s Success Comes from Team Defense

How the Lions’ defensive strategy is making the difference.

MLS: Inter Miami CF at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Against the odds, Orlando City has advanced to the semifinals of the MLS is Back Tournament. Perhaps the biggest reason has been a staunch defense. I’m not only referring to Pedro Gallese in goal and the back line of Ruan, Antônio Carlos, Robin Jansson, and João Moutinho, but the efforts of the entire squad.

The Lions have been very effective at team defending. Every player from Tesho Akindele back to Gallese has contributed. Perhaps the best example of this team defending was in the match against Los Angeles FC. Orlando City needed to press and defend the entirety of the pitch to neutralize a potent LAFC attack. The Lions were so effective in doing so that LAFC did not have a shot in the first half for the first time in their history. Even after making adjustments at the half, LAFC only managed eight shots in total, and five on target (most of which came after Orlando fell behind and started taking more chances). It’s hard not to express how big a factor this was in the match.

There have been standouts in individual matches, like Moutinho, Jansson, and Gallese, but Mauricio Pereyra, Nani, Akindele, and others also contributed. Oscar Pareja’s desired system of possession, passing with purpose, and team defense has found a total buy-in from the players, and the Lions have adapted well to the new culture, implementing his vision effectively in the tournament.

To give you an example of what I’m talking about check out Miguel Gallardo’s breakdown of Moutinho’s play in the match.

Tonight’s match between Orlando City and Minnesota United FC will feature two clubs that have played very good defense. In similar fashion to Orlando City, Minnesota has scored nine goals and allowed five goals all tournament for a plus-four differential (Orlando has scored eight and allowed four). The match has the potential to be stingy when it comes to goals being scored.

It seems that despite what Orlando City supporters are used to from Adrian Heath, he is content to sit back, play defense, allow the other team the majority of the possession and try to counter attack. Conversely, Pareja wants his team to keep the ball, work it out of the back and create chances. Where those chances come from can vary based on the opponent.

Given Minnesota’s lineup, I expect the Lions to attack down the wings, and then cross the ball into the box to look for their chances. Orlando City is able to do so because Moutinho and Ruan have been effective in creating those chances while also recovering on defense. The reason they are able to do so is because Jansson, Carlos, and Uri Rosell do well in slowing down the opposition’s attacks, allowing the fullbacks to roam up and down the wings. After the last match I was concerned that Jansson might not be available, but as of Wednesday, he was not listed as questionable, and I expect him to start.

Pareja and the players have said multiple times that they intend to play their game — to be the protagonists of the story. So far they have done just that, and I don’t expect we will see anything different against Minnesota.