Orlando City played its third opponent this season that it didn’t face in 2020 and is now 3-0-0 in those matches after Saturday night’s 1-0 win over Toronto FC. It was a familiar script as the Lions scored early and then simply didn’t allow themselves or their opponents to score from that point on. That script worked at D.C. United last weekend and did so again vs. the Reds. The only difference is the Lions were able to create more on the counter against Toronto, even if they couldn’t capitalize on those chances.
So, what did we learn from Orlando’s first win over Toronto since July of 2018?
Pedro Says No
Orlando goalkeeper Pedro Gallese is in a fantastic groove following back-to-back shutout wins. While he wasn’t forced to make many stops at D.C., he came home and faced more opportunities against Toronto. The Reds fired 18 total shots and got six of them on target and some of them were tricky. Notably, his first-half save that changed directions on him was difficult but he made it look easy. He made five saves, took command of his box, and helped his defenders relieve pressure all night. Gallese is one of the league’s best goalkeepers and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of country starts acknowledging that.
Who Needs Starting Fullbacks?
With Ruan and Joao Moutinho unavailable, Oscar Pareja turned to regular backup Kyle Smith at right back and Rodrigo Schlegel on the left. With Yeferson Soteldo and Richie Laryea both being shifty and fast flank players, they had the toughest assignment of the night. It wasn’t perfect. Soteldo fizzed 14 crosses into the area over the course of the night, often shifting directions on Smith to free himself to get to the end line first. Laryea made Schlegel look silly a few times but overall the Argentine kept the former Lion in check, limiting him to one key pass, three total crosses (one accurate), and no shot attempts. Considering what they were asked to do, Smith and Schlegel performed extremely well and that’s not too surprising given how they’ve played — wherever they’ve been deployed — since the season started.
Van der Water Makes a Splash
Silvester van der Water made his first MLS start and it was a bright one. Having played only 25 minutes in Major League Soccer entering Saturday, van der Water contributed more than twice that number in his initial Orlando City start and was the team’s most dangerous man. He tied Tesho Akindele for the most shot attempts (3), assisted on the game’s only goal with his key pass, completed one dribble, and drew two free kicks. The Dutchman is still adjusting to the league and learning his teammates’ tendencies, but his first start was an exceedingly promising one.
Signs of Improvement
Orlando City struggled to play through D.C.’s press a week ago and Toronto saw that film and came into Exploria Stadium prepared to press high. The Lions dealt with it well and didn’t get pinned in their own half for long stretches as they had the prior week. Toronto, and particularly Michael Bradley, did a fantastic job of surrounding Orlando’s midfielders and creating double teams to poke the ball away but City was more calm on the ball and found alleys to play through. When they gained possession, the Lions also did a better job of springing transition opportunities on Saturday. There were multiple opportunities to counter attack and put the game out of reach. Unfortunately, the finishing wasn’t there. Akindele was closed down from behind and didn’t get a clean shot off on one opportunity and Alex Bono made a great save to deny Benji Michel on another.
The Beef is Back!
Robin Jansson returned last week when Pareja went to a three-man back line between his fullbacks to see out the win at D.C. This week, the Beefy Swede got the start at his normal left center back position and went a full 90, which couldn’t have been easy against the likes of Jozy Altidore, Ayo Akinola, and Soteldo. Jansson had a strong game, including a vital intervention when Soteldo chipped the ball over Gallese and got loose in the box. He admitted after the game that he felt a bit rusty and thought he should have done better, but he looked strong. He and Antonio Carlos — who himself had another standout game — were positioned well on set pieces (and Toronto had a lot of those) and had no communication breakdowns and very few nervy moments overall.
Those are the things that stood out to me. I could have added a sixth takeaway about the need for more clinical finishing, but that’s beating a dead horse after six matches. What did you see that you liked or didn’t like?