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Importance of Fullbacks Displayed in Orlando City’s 2-1 Loss to FC Cincinnati

Orlando City depends on the play of its outside backs, as shown in its loss to FC Cincinnati.

MLS: FC Cincinnati at Orlando City SC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City depends on its outside backs as much as any other position on the field. Ruan and Joao Moutinho fly up the wings, slinging balls into the box for Ercan Kara and Alexandre Pato. The importance of these two players was evident Saturday night in the team’s 2-1 loss to FC Cincinnati.

Ruan and Moutinho have critical roles for the Lions on both the offensive and defensive end. Offensively, Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja wants his outside backs to push forward into the attack. The team’s midfielders routinely send the speedy Brazilian through on the right side, allowing him to beat his defender and send balls into the box.

This tactic has worked well for Orlando City over the past two years. During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, the only two years in which the Lions qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs, Ruan led the team with 22 successful crosses (12 in 2020 and 10 in 2021). He led the team in completed crosses in 2020 and only trailed Nani (11) in 2021.

Moutinho wasn’t far behind the past two years, completing five crosses in 2020 and 10 in 2021 for 15 total. However, it should also be noted that Moutinho played much less than Ruan in 2020 due to an injury suffered during the MLS is Back Tournament.

The trend of seeing these two players among the top crossers on the team has continued in 2022. Through three games, Orlando City has again been attacking through its outside backs. Ruan and Moutinho have a combined 33 cross attempts, which equals the total of the rest of the team combined. Ruan leads the team with 18 crosses this year and Moutinho is third, with 15. The only other players with more than 10 cross attempts are Facundo Torres (16) and Mauricio Pereyra (12).

Orlando City played more through its outside backs against FC Cincinnati than it has all year, as both players recorded the most crosses they’ve had this season. While Moutinho’s six crosses were only one more than his five in the first game against CF Montreal and two more than his four in the second game against the Chicago Fire, Ruan had 10 compared to his five against Chicago and three against Montreal.

Unfortunately, the added crosses didn’t result in many more completions. Ruan ended the game Saturday night two for 10 and Moutinho ended up zero for six. The team was much more successful in this game through its attacking midfielders. Pereyra was five for eight in attempted crosses and Torres was four for seven with an assist, which came from a ball from the left.

While Ruan and Moutinho might’ve struggled on the attacking end, they are defenders. However, that part of their game struggled too, as both players had key roles in both of Cincinnati’s goals.

There have been times in the past where pushing forward has punished the Lions. As Ruan and Moutinho get deeper into the attack, the team has been vulnerable on the defensive end. This year, the addition of Cesar Araujo has helped that as the Uruguayan has dropped back to help the back line until the two outside backs can return to their natural positions.

In the 13th minute, Moutinho was marking Brandon Vazquez but allowed the attacker to get inside of him. Luciano Acosta was able to place a through ball perfectly past Robin Jansson to the diagonal run of Vazquez, resulting in the opening goal.

Ruan had his own negative moment in the 53rd minute. With the game tied, quick play by Acosta and Yuya Kubo sprung Dominique Badji down the left while Ruan jogged back. Despite starting a step behind, Ruan caught up to the midfielder, but was forced to the ground by Badji’s shoulder. That gave the midfielder plenty of time to find Vazquez’s head for his second and the deciding goal.

There were other factors in both goals. The first began with a bad giveaway, when a poor pass by Pereyra gave away possession on his own half of the field. The second goal could’ve been avoided had Robin Jansson been able to stay in front of Vazquez, but the forward lost him. However, it’s undeniable that both Ruan and Moutinho each played roles on one of Cincinnati’s goals.

Despite their poor performances against Cincinnati, Orlando City’s tactics are unlikely to change anytime soon. Much of the team’s success over the past two seasons has come with this style and one game won’t change that. But this game showed the importance of the play of Ruan and Moutinho and they must do better if this team will be successful.