Orlando City plays Charlotte FC for the first time this Saturday night in Exploria Stadium. The Lions are coming off their worst loss and worst performance of the season so far after losing to the New York Red Bulls 3-0 last Sunday. There were plenty of mistakes and poor play to go around in that match. Now, the Lions must turn it around. Here are the things that Orlando City needs to do to secure three points at home.
Orlando gave up three goals against the Red Bulls. It was the second time this season Orlando allowed that many or more, with the four goals allowed against LAFC being the other. Normally, the Lions are much stingier on defense with only three goals conceded across their other seven matches this season, including five clean sheets. I’m not sure if the club was simply asleep on Sunday, but it needs to return to the norm.
Typically, Óscar Pareja employs a four-player back line consisting of Ruan, Rodrigo Schlegel, Robin Jansson, and João Moutinho. Ruan and Moutinho are encouraged to push up into the attack under Pareja’s system. The other possibility is using a three-player back line with Schlegel, Jansson, and Homegrown Player Thomas Williams. That allows Ruan and Moutinho greater freedom to move up the field. I don’t see Pareja using this formation unless he is either chasing goals or defending a lead. If chasing a goal, Ruan or Moutinho may be subbed off, and if defending, expect them both to create the five-player back line we’ve seen before.
For Charlotte, I don’t think any big changes need to be implemented. The back line, and the defensive midfielders like César Araújo and Sebas Mendez, simply need to get back to what was making them successful before the last match. Even against LAFC, the defense only made four mistakes. It’s just that all four resulted in goals, which is unlikely to happen again.
Find the Offense
We loved the Ercan Kara goal with the team buildup against the Columbus Crew. It was a beautiful example of what the offense can do when it is clicking. I want to see that again, and I know those players want to provide that for us again. The Lions have 10 goals in nine matches, which isn’t horrible but it is fewer than every other team in the Eastern Conference in a playoff position apart from Atlanta United, which has also scored 10.
The Lions have some seriously dangerous weapons on offense with Alexandre Pato, Kara, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres. Now, they need to be unleashed. With almost a quarter of the season in the books, these players have had enough time to get to know each other, and we’ve seen glimpses of their potential. This is the match that it all needs to come together. After Saturday, Orlando’s next three MLS regular-season matches are all on the road. The home U.S. Open Cup match against the Philadelphia Union will break that up a bit, but it also makes for three matches in eight days during May. Finding some offensive cohesion is not only necessary for the Charlotte match, but for those upcoming road trips as well.
Focus the Midfield
Orlando City’s midfield was atrocious against the Red Bulls, and it fell into every trap set by the opposition. That isn’t the norm for Orlando City. Usually Pereyra and Júnior Urso are more clever. The same can be said for Araújo and Mendez. I’m not certain if they simply had a bad game — much like everyone did — but adjustments need to be made. The passing was not good. Poorly weighted balls, and ill-advised passes do not get the ball up to the attackers, which is an obvious need if a team plans on scoring any goals, or even getting shots on goal.
As captain, Pereyra is the one who needs to set the tone. He has the ability to change the game, and even help cover mistakes made by his teammates at times. His ability to spread the ball around, recognize where the defense’s weak points are, and then exploit them with good passes will make all the difference. As goes the captain, so goes the players. If not, it is up to him to get them settled down and back into the right frame of mind.
That is what I will be looking for as the Lions go against the — checks notes — Sir Minty’s? Seriously, that is their mascot. You feel a little better about Kingston now, don’t you?