Victory! After three league draws and a Leagues Cup loss, Orlando City got back to winning ways with a gritty 1-0 home victory over the Chicago Fire. The visitors won the expected goals battle, had more chances, and held more possession, but it doesn’t matter because the Lions found the game’s lone goal courtesy of Benji Michel in the 51st minute. What can we learn from last night’s win at Exploria Stadium?
Defense Gets The Job Done
Even as the goal scoring has faltered and the soccer isn’t as pretty, Orlando City’s defense continues to get results. Antonio Carlos was a monster in this game, cleaning up almost everything in Orlando’s half of the field. Mason Stajduhar had his best professional game, keeping his first clean sheet and being a commanding presence in his box. The lone goal in the match came courtesy of a nifty defensive play from Tesho Akindele. If there’s one thing that’s consistently delivered for this team, it’s the defense, and all 11 players did their defensive work and ground out the victory.
Something’s Not Working In Attack
With that all being said, something’s not right in the final third. Everything is just off offensively for the Lions and it’s hard to say how to fix it. Especially without Nani, the cast of playmakers consistently struggle to produce the goods. Silvester van der Water was actually pretty good in this game, providing his flair and creativity, but he didn’t create a wealth of chances. Even worse was Chris Mueller, who at this point just seems broken. So often one of his passes would be just off, or a dribble would be just dispossessed. A lot of the same goes for both Michel and Akindele, but since they actually created a goal, they’re spared some criticism in this game. Maybe it’s just the injuries taking their toll, but this attack is in a serious funk and it needs to be sorted out if Orlando is to secure its spot in the Eastern Conference table.
Injury Crisis Continues
Orlando’s official injury report has three players listed as questionable, three players listed as out, plus several other players are dealing with unspecified and unreported injury issues, including Daryl Dike. This grueling stretch of summer is taking its toll on the Lions, and it hit especially hard in this game. A half hour into the match, Nani went down and was immediately subbed off. Oscar Pareja said after the game that he’s been experiencing tightness, which is why he’s on the injury report, but the captain wanted to give it a go before everyone involved thought better of it at the half-hour mark.
Having the best player on the field subbed off in the first half is a serious blow. Throughout the game, Orlando dealt with injury scares, including knocks to van der Water, Stajduhar, and Joey DeZart. If there’s one silver lining, we got to see a Homegrown debut for Raul Aguilera Jr. The schedule does open up a tiny bit over September, but the season is a brutal grind and no real break is in sight, so the depth of this team is going to be pushed to the limit.
Another Opportunistic Goal
Creating chances has been difficult for this team over the last month or so, but in recent games, Orlando has capitalized on opposition mistakes. Against Cincinnati earlier this month, the lone Orlando goal came off a massive Allan Cruz blunder, and in this game, the Lions once again pounced on a defensive disaster. Mauricio Pineda was caught way too lax on the ball, with Tesho picking his pocket and poking it to Benji Michel with acres of space to attack. Punishing bad mistakes is something all good teams do, and Orlando is certainly checking that box right now.
First Choice Fullbacks Make A Difference
Ruan and Joao Moutinho have barely played together in the last 12 months, but they both started against the Fire and provided a spark. I say the attack didn’t click, and that’s still true, but when both fullbacks got forward, it looked dangerous. Ruan’s pure pace down the right flank is such a weapon and the Brazilian was good in this game, even racking up a pair of key passes. Moutinho doesn’t contribute a lot in this system, with the left back mostly playing as a center back in possession, but he did push forward on a few occasions and whipped in a handful of crosses. The former LAFC draftee wasn’t sharp with his delivery, but it’s always a delight seeing both fullbacks provide some offensive spark like we’ve seen in years prior.
Those were my takeaways from the match, make sure to leave your thoughts and takeaways below.