After a brutal loss in Montreal a week ago and a midweek home U.S. Open Cup win against the Philadelphia Union, there was plenty of uncertainty what kind of Orlando City team would show up for a regular-season road match against Toronto FC. Prior to the Open Cup match, the Lions had a forgettable three-game stretch in which they lost twice, attempted only 12 total shots, and managed to get just five on target.
But Orlando controlled just about the entire match in Toronto during Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Reds. The goal didn’t come until stoppage time, but at least it did come.
Here are my takeaways from the match:
The Shots Returned
After attempting three, seven, and two shots in the matches against the New York Red Bulls, Charlotte FC, and Montreal, respectively, Orlando City fired 17 times, putting six of them on target. That was more shot attempts and more shots on target in one match than the Lions had in their previous three league games combined. The quality of some of those shots can certainly be debated, but it’s clear that there was a concerted effort by Orlando to send more balls at goal. Mauricio Pereyra, Junior Urso, and Joao Moutinho each attempted three shots in the match.
Suspect Crossing Quality
While it was good to see the Lions attempting more shots, that was somewhat to be expected as they controlled most of the tempo and possession. The quality of the chances created, however, was a bit suspect at times and that’s because the crossing left a lot to be desired. Orlando City attempted 22 crosses in the match, but only five of them were accurate. Fullbacks Ruan and Moutinho combined to attempt five crosses without a single connection. Facundo Torres wasn’t much better, connecting on only one of five attempts. Three of the team’s five accurate crosses came from Pereyra, who attempted seven — not a bad rate, but the wide players must be better to generate chances for Ercan Kara, who is a big, active target in the box. Kara only managed one shot attempt, owing largely to a failure to get him the ball. The Designated Player managed only 17 touches in more than an hour. Some of that is on him, but a lot of it is his teammates not getting him the ball.
The best cross of the match was the last one, when Alexandre Pato set up Kyle Smith’s winning goal with a dangerous, low ball with pace off a corner kick.
Corner Kick Follies
For some reason, Orlando City is in love with the short corner. Whether that owes to a height discrepancy in the box (aside from Kara) or some other reason, I’m not sure, but the team has been comically bad at short corners. At Toronto on Saturday, there was one short corner where the team didn’t even complete the first pass of the play and Toronto was gifted a counter-attack opportunity. I semi-jokingly rant about short corners on Twitter often (#BanShortCorners). There are certain times and opponents when they make more sense than a traditional delivery into the area. However, until the Lions get better at them, they should be shelved. Perhaps they’re coming off well in training? If so, the team has to start showing that on the pitch against opposing competition. Corner kicks should be scoring chances for your team, not the opposition. Height isn’t the only requirement to succeeding on a corner kick. Smith wasn’t the tallest Lion on the pitch for the winning set piece but he got himself free and executed, and Pato sent him a great ball. More of this, please.
I was shocked to see Junior Urso go the full 90 minutes because he was a bit off all game long after playing an outstanding full game in the midweek win over Philadelphia. For the second game in a row, Oscar Pareja deployed Urso as a winger — at least to start. The Bear still turned in his usual hard-working performance and did a lot of useful things, but his touch was off all day and it wrecked several outstanding scoring chances. One heavy touch prevented him from finding teammates during a 3-v-1 transition opportunity. Another heavy touch ruined a great buildup that started with Robin Jansson’s lung-busting run through the entire TFC squad. Urso also failed to get a sitter on target with no goalkeeper in front of him on a nice pass from Ruan. Instead of coming off, Urso instead was moved into the central midfield box-to-box role when Jake Mulraney replaced Andres Perea.
Unusual Substitution Pattern Works
Pareja’s sub pattern was a bit different in this one, but it ultimately worked well. Mulraney entering for Perea was essentially like-for-like because he took up a wing spot and Urso moved from wing to the No. 8 role. After that, things got a little less conventional. In the 76th minute, Pato and Smith came in for Kara and Torres. This was somewhat like-for-like with Ruan pushing up into a winger role, but not precisely. Pato is a much different forward than Kara and dropped deeper to get involved in the match. Ruan didn’t become a conventional winger, however. as Smith served as a de facto third center back and the two fullbacks moved up into wingback roles, changing the team’s shape. This served to calm down a game that had become more open at the start of the second half when Toronto subbed Ayo Akinola on for Ralph Priso. Other than that, not too much changed, although Pato and Smith combined on the match-winning play.
The final sub was definitely not like-for-like as Sebas Mendez came on for Pereyra. Without a true backup No. 10 on the team, that role was filled by a combination of Pato and Urso. It was unconventional, but it worked, and credit to Pareja for thinking a bit outside the box.
Those are the things that stuck out to me in the win in Toronto. What did you see? Let me know in the comments.