Orlando City hasn’t played particularly good soccer over the last month and a half. The Lions are just 2-3-3 with a -4 goal differential since July started, all while battling international absences, a plague of injuries, and a congested run of fixtures. After a disappointing exit from Leagues Cup, things aren’t great for Orlando City. However, for all the struggles of late, the play of the defense, and particularly the center backs has been great.
The top pairing of Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson is among the best in Major League Soccer. They two have actually only been able to play together three times in this stretch, but when they have, Orlando’s defense has been fantastic. Against Inter Miami and Atlanta United, Orlando did concede three combined goals, but that’s an inflated number, as the Lions conceded only 0.9 expected goals and 10 total shots (four on target) in the two games. That’s not all down to the center back pairing, and neither Jansson nor Carlos had particularly incredible stat lines in either game, but they generally provided the defensive cover Orlando needed and the team delivered.
Carlos has had injury issues (concussion protocol) in this run of games but Rodrigo Schlegel continues to excel as the third choice. Unlike his Brazilian and Swedish counterparts, Schlegel is much more of a ball winner and is in the 92nd percentile among center backs for tackles, with 2.48. He has a tendency to get caught going for the ball, but he can be a big time defensive playmaker. Jansson isn’t as statistically significant as Schlegel or Carlos, but is the steadying presence at the back Orlando needs. He hasn’t missed a game since coming back from injury and I’d be hard pressed to find a truly poor performance in that run — sans that disaster in New York, where everyone was bad.
Most storylines around Orlando City as of late have been the relative woes of the offense. Nani is asked to do everything and the supporting cast has been lacking. Against a lackluster run of opponents, it’s fair to expect a lot more from a squad that has proven to be an offensive force. Just 10 goals in eight games isn’t good, especially against the likes of Toronto, Chicago, and Miami, but the Lions are still clinging to a top four spot in the East with a game in hand on most of the conference.
The defensive solidity from Carlos, Jansson, and Schlegel is a huge part of that. If Orlando was getting a 2019-esque defensive performance, this could’ve descended into a disaster, especially when you consider star goalkeeper Pedro Gallese hasn’t played the last three matches. Good center back play significantly raises any team’s floor, and that’s the best thing going for Orlando City right now.
Even as the hype around Orlando has died down nationally, Carlos is still a leading candidate for defensive player of the year, while both Jansson and Schlegel are criminally underrated and could start for almost any team in the league. No matter how inconsistent the goal scoring is or the myriad of injuries around them, as long as the Lions can keep two of their center backs fit, they have a shot to win any game.