Orlando City’s defense has defined the team in the early part of the season. Through seven games, the Lions have conceded just four goals, the second-fewest in the league. While the back line has seen plenty of rotation due to injuries, center back Antonio Carlos emerged as an early candidate for MLS Defensive Player of the Year. Things are more secure than ever for the Lions, but can they keep it up? Well, it’s complicated.
Orlando undeniably has an elite core of defensive players. Its center back triumvirate of Carlos, Robin Jansson, and Rodrigo Schlegel might be the best in the league. Pedro Gallese is among the best goalkeepers in the league as well. There isn’t a major defensive hole in the squad, as even offensively minded fullbacks like Joao Moutinho and Ruan have shown defensive chops. But even with their clear quality, the early season defensive performances might be a little inflated.
Expected goals, probably the best indicator of how many quality chances a team is generating/conceding, indicate Orlando might be playing a little above its means. Despite only conceding four goals, Orlando is allowing 0.881 expected goals per 90 minutes. Granted, that’s still sixth-best in the league, but it is interesting to note.
Orlando has also allowed 0.082 expected goals per shot, indicating a good job by Orlando’s defense to force opponents into difficult shots and an inability to score on those tough chances from opponents. Gallese has been phenomenal in limiting opponents from scoring as well, with 21 saves and a great 84% save percentage. These are great numbers and don’t indicate this performance is a fluke, but there are things to consider.
Their opponents may start to finish their chances at a higher clip. As teams get into more of a rhythm, finishing will likely improve across the league. With plenty of strong offenses such as the San Jose Earthquakes and Philadelphia Union coming up on the schedule this summer, things could get more difficult. Also, Gallese will miss time later this month for the Copa America and the unproven Brandon Austin will have to step up in Gallese’s stead.
With all that being said, there’s little reason to worry. Orlando might be overperforming slightly right now, but even if the Lions played down to where their analytics say they should, they’d still be a top-10 defensive team in the league. Also, who’s to say they won’t maintain these strong defensive performances? Good teams with good players often outperform metrics all the time. The Seattle Sounders are overperforming offensively and defensively by far wider margins than Orlando, as did last year’s Union side that claimed the Supporters’ Shield. The best teams are teams that are good but also lucky. As players such as Ruan and João Moutinho heal during the international break, I expect Orlando will continue its defensive quality throughout the rest of the season.