Orlando City continued its undefeated start to the season with a 1-1 draw Saturday night against New York City FC. The result was disappointing for a team that played well enough to win but there were definitely some positives. One of those bright spots was the team’s midfield defense.
Last week, Orlando City dominated FC Cincinnati on its way to a 3-0 win. Despite the result, there was some questionable defense in the midfield. Fortunately for the team, the back line was solid once play entered the box.
A big issue against Cincinnati was Orlando’s lack of pressure in the midfield. The Lions gave the opposition plenty of time and space when it crossed the midfield line, allowing Cincinnati to build an attack. The lack of quality from Cincinnati allowed Orlando to get away with this lack of pressure, but it could cost them against better sides.
Once Cincinnati reached the box, a common problem throughout MLS occurred. The defense pressured the attackers, allowing them to find space between the defenders for a shot on goal. While those shots may have been lower percentage opportunities compared to those inside the box, there are plenty of players in the league that can score from those positions.
The Orlando City midfield defended much better Saturday night against NYCFC. The Pigeons were given little space when bringing the ball up the field, often being forced into long balls or to play outside.
When they reached the box, the Lions were usually patient in their defense. NYCFC was allowed to move horizontally, but wasn’t given much space to shoot on goal. Had Joao Moutinho not mistimed a challenge, the pressure in the midfield and patience at the top of the box would’ve resulted in the team’s third clean sheet in four games.
The success the Lions had defensively in this game came down to the play of multiple players. Defensive midfielders Junior Urso and Sebas Mendez pressured NYCFC very well for much of the game. Many times, this resulted in a turnover before the opposition could reach the box. It also allowed the Lions to clear the ball as NYCFC attempted more difficult passes to break through the back line.
The Lions also showed patience by not lunging into tackles. This allowed them to stay in front of the attackers and keep New York City FC from playing through balls to those making runs into the box.
Credit for the defensive effort also has to go to forward Tesho Akindele. Often criticized for his finishing, Akindele worked as hard as anyone on the field in this game. He came back into the midfield and put pressure on the NYCFC attack, allowing Urso and Mendez to drop further back to provide support for the back four.
While the team did give up more chances than it did against Cincinnati, it played a much better team. Cincinnati visited Orlando as a weakened side due to injuries (though mostly on defense), and played a defensive game. Often playing with 10 men behind the ball made it much easier for Orlando City to keep them off the scoreboard without applying too much pressure.
That type of play against NYCFC could’ve been costly. The Pigeons feature a much more potent attack and may have converted on more chances if they had more time on the ball.
The fact that Cincinnati was missing so many players and playing a defensive style could be part of the reason why the Lions were so lenient in that game. While it didn’t hurt them against arguably the league’s worst team, they won’t want to get into the habit of allowing space just above the penalty area. There are many future opponents that could take advantage and punish that leniency
Unless Oscar Pareja made a deliberate plan to play more offensively last week, the midfield defensive play against Cincinnati could be seen as concerning, considering some of the other teams the Lions will be facing this season. But, the Lions were much better Saturday night against NYCFC and this could help them as the season commences.