Orlando City entered Saturday afternoon’s 1-0 win against the Chicago Fire looking to bounce back from a tough 4-2 loss to LAFC. The Fire made it a difficult task with a defensive mindset throughout the match. However, the Lions made it even more difficult on themselves at times with their passing decisions.
Chicago’s objective from the start of this game was to keep everyone back, withstand the Orlando City attack, and attempt to break on the counter. It’s not the first time that the Lions have seen this strategy by an opponent at Exploria Stadium and it won’t be the last.
When an opponent fills the middle of the field the way the Fire did Saturday afternoon, it’s difficult to thread balls through the middle. In most cases, you’re attempting to find a teammate through four or five defenders. In addition to the difficulty of the pass, it also creates a dangerous situation if the pass is unsuccessful.
Orlando City is already a team that likes to attack. The outside backs drive forward down the wings, pushing numbers into the opposing half. That leaves the two center backs as the only defenders if the team loses possession. Even if Cesar Araujo or Sebas Mendez hold their position just in front of the defense, as they usually do, the offense has a great opportunity to have a numbers advantage on a counter attack.
In this situation, it’s important to make quality passes and smart decisions. With most of the team pushed up, losing possession gives the opposition a dangerous opportunity to counter attack. The players who have entered the attack are facing the opponent’s goal, making it difficult for them to get back to defend.
Additionally, the midfield is often left open. The opposition has plenty of room and time to send players forward, creating an advantage in numbers. If the Lions display the poor finishing they did Saturday afternoon, it could result in a 1-0 loss or a 1-1 draw at times.
The Lions nearly found themselves in this position several times in this game, especially in the first half. The main culprit was Mauricio Pereyra. Playing in a more attacking position than he often does, Pereyra attempted on multiple occasions to thread the needle to Ercan Kara, Alexandre Pato, or Facundo Torres.
The problem is that the pass had to be perfect to make it through the sea of defenders between the two players. Meanwhile, Pereyra had Ruan darting down the right and Joao Moutinho down the left waiting for a ball they could send into the box.
Unlike attempting to thread a ball between defenders, a failed cross is usually less dangerous than losing possession on a low pass. The defense’s main concern is clearing a cross out, which often ends up with the attacking team at the top of the box. A failed pass down the middle often results in the defending team heading the other way.
Another option with the higher-percentage pass is finding the player with a late run. You don’t have to watch MLS very long to figure out that most teams don’t mark the man at the top of the box. The Lions have been guilty of this and conceded goals because of it. Rather than sending in a high cross that could be cleared away, they could find a late run, potentially setting up an open shot.
Regardless of what play the simple pass sets up, it has a better chance of success than sending a ball through several defenders. It also is less likely to head the other way on a dangerous counter attack.
While Orlando City failed on multiple occasions to complete one of these high-risk passes, it didn’t end up hurting them in the end. Chicago generated little offensively. Eventually, the team was able to convert in the 59th minute when Pato headed the ball across the six-yard box and Kara put it in.
As previously mentioned, this wasn’t the first time Orlando City has faced this strategy and it won’t be the last. If the Lions continue to attempt high-risk passes that put their defense in a vulnerable position, it could result in uneven attacks the other way. And if the team doesn’t finish better than it did in this game, that could result in a devastating loss.