Today I'm going to do something I don't generally like to do, and that is I'm going to point out a weakness in a team that I love to follow as a fan. Regardless of the sport, there are several reasons I don't like dwelling on weaknesses. The first is that as someone who doesn't play the sport on any kind of organized level, I feel a little under-qualified to be critical of a group of professional athletes. The second reason is that I have to think that if I see the problem and recognize it's a problem, then the players and coaches and other observers who are in a position to actually do something about it probably already know it's a problem, so I'm not contributing any ground-breaking observations. And the third is simply I don't like believing that the teams I root for are anything less than perfect. I know that's probably a very silly notion, but I really want to see the teams I love win every match, every time, every season.
But the problem I've seen is something I noticed way back in the NYCFC match and last Sunday's match against Columbus provided the clearest counter-example I have witnessed all season in a match that Orlando City SC played. The problem, alluded to in the title of this post, is the tendency by many of the Orlando City SC players to hesitate or seem unprepared when a teammate passes the ball into them.
This is something that we see most often around the opposing team's area when we have players that are in position to take a shot on goal. If the ball is passed in with a lob that travels twenty or thirty yards in the air to reach a teammate in that situation, you will almost always see our player on the receiving end receive the ball with his leg or foot to settle it in front of him. Only once the ball is settled will they seem to look up to see where they are and who is around them and then turn to position themselves to line up for a shot on the goal.
By contrast, in that same scenario you see the best players in MLS do all that positioning and pitch analysis while the ball is still in the air being passed to them. By the time that pass reaches the turf, the best players already know what position they need to be in and what angle they want to take to send a shot screaming toward the goal. Sometimes that shot comes before the ball ever has a chance to hit the ground, and other times they've already started their kick when the ball bounces and their foot strikes it as it rises back off the pitch. But there's none of this stop and settle and look around before you finally decide to shoot. The shots are decisive, immediate, and instantaneous.
I want to see more of this from our lads. I want to see less of the "try to make everything absolutely perfect" and more of the "just take the stinking shot already!" Now some of you who have played soccer (or other organized sports) at the high school, college, or semi-pro level may be able to give me hours of lectures on why what I'm observing and what I've said is so much more difficult than I could possibly imagine from behind my keyboard or sitting in the grandstands. I won't argue that and I won't quibble with your superior knowledge of the nuances of the game.
In fact, there is some dialogue and input I'd like to solicit from such readers. Namely it's this: if you wanted to try to move the needle from what I'm describing as "hesitation" toward a faster reaction and more decisive striking, what would you say that takes? Is that a factor of individual players better honing their skills or is that a factor of a group of players developing better bonds on the pitch and learning more about each other's play styles and strengths?
It looks so deceptively simple when Neymar loops the ball into Messi's feet and he takes a scoring shot without even seeming to break his stride, or when Marcelo fires a laser across the face of the goal that Ronaldo simply redirects with a lifted boot into the back of the net. I really want to get used to seeing the same thing every time down the pitch when the ball is played in from Rafael Ramos to Cyle Larin or from Eric Avila to Darwin Ceren. Is that too much to ask? I love the exciting brand of high-energy soccer that Orlando City is producing and the way they push hard to the end of every match and keep the games thrilling. I just wish that more of those opportunities ended up with goals buried in the back of the opponent's net instead of blocked or deflected or even stolen off the feet of our lads due to the sinking sensation of too much hesitation.