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Orlando City vs. D.C. United: Five Takeaways

What can we learn from Orlando City’s gritty road win against D.C. United?

MLS: Orlando City SC at D.C. United Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City played its fifth match of the 2021 Major League Soccer season and came away with a 1-0 victory against D.C. United. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Lions remain unbeaten and grabbed their second win of the year. What can we take away from this gritty road victory?

These Lions Have Guile

I’ve said it about a dozen times already, but this was not exactly beautiful soccer. Both teams were under 75% on their successful passes for the game, there was a total of 35 combined fouls, and each team only had one shot on target. It wasn’t the style of play Orlando likes, but it persevered regardless. The Lions were energetic from the start and created the best opportunity of the game, one that Mauricio Pereyra coolly converted. From that point on, it was a lot of withstanding D.C.’s relentless press and keeping the game in front of them. D.C. had most of the ball, but wasn’t able to create much in the way of danger for Orlando to deal with.

The defense was organized, the work rate was high, and in the end Orlando got the result it wanted. The win pushed the Lions up to second in the Eastern Conference, only trailing the New England Revolution.

Tactical Wrinkle From Pareja

Orlando City was up 1-0 on the road against an aggressive D.C. United team when Oscar Pareja decided to mix things up to see out the result by switching to three center backs on defense. With Robin Jansson’s return from injury, Orlando has enough quality at the center back position to create a wall of three in front of Pedro Gallese. Pareja often used this shape to see out games last season, and this was the first time seeing it in 2021. With the center backs Orlando can deploy and fixture congestion, international absences, and potential injuries looming, we could see similar back lines down the stretch this year.

Defensive Excellence Continues

Speaking of those center backs, Orlando continues to be one of the best defenses in all of MLS. Antonio Carlos was a force to be reckoned with, winning all five of his duels in the air and adding 13 clearances and three interceptions. If he plays at this level all year, he will be a Best XI center back. Rodrigo Schlegel was solid again, Kyle Smith was great, and Gallese had an excellent save on his national team teammate Edison Flores. There are no real weak links defensively and there’s depth everywhere (unless Smith goes down). Orlando has conceded the fewest goals in MLS alongside the Seattle Sounders and will be incredibly stingy all season.

Moutinho is Back

After a lengthy injury absence, left back Joao Moutinho has slowly worked his way back into the lineup and Sunday marked the Portuguese fullback’s return to the starting XI. He did have some sloppy moments at times, but it was a strong performance in his first start since August of last year. He finished the match with a key pass, four interceptions, a tackle, and a crucial blocked shot. He did pick up a few knocks, which is always a scary sight given Moutinho’s injury history, but he should be back to his starting left back spot for the foreseeable future.

Struggled to Break The Press

I don’t want to take away too many negatives from this game. It was a great result on the road against a challenging opponent. The only real negative for me was Orlando’s relative inability to break D.C.’s relentless press. D.C. Head Coach Hernan Losada uses one of the most aggressive pressing systems in the league and it was a real challenge for Orlando to create opportunities. To their credit, the Lions weren’t giving the ball up in bad spots, and when they did they got back quickly. But the possession was too slow to consistently beat the press over the course of 90 minutes.

Those were my takeaways from Orlando’s second win of the year. Leave your takeaways in the comments below.