Red Bulls vs. OCSC: Previews and Predictions

Today’s matchup at Red Bulls Arena will be a huge test for Orlando City. After an active mid-season trade window that saw the team acquire Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun, and Dillon Powers, the players need to prove that they want to claw their way back above the red line and make it into the playoffs this season. 

Orlando City started out strong, but they fell off a cliff starting in May and they’ve never really recovered. After starting the season 6 – 1 – 0, the team has gone 2 – 8 – 6 in their most recent 16 matches. At a recent meeting with fans, Coach Jason Kreis explained that in the first nine weeks of the MLS season, Orlando City had the luxury of playing only 7 matches (one reason was the snowed-out match at New England). Then in the second nine weeks of the season, the team had 13 matches. I’m just a fan, but the fact that the team couldn’t continue winning with more matches crammed into the same time frame tells me they lacked depth. Hopefully Dwyer, Powers, and Yotun will bring the club more depth so that this trend can be corrected.

Dwyer has yet to score for the Lions in two appearances and will be out of the Red Bulls match after having minor nose surgery stemming from an incident in the match vs. Atlanta two weeks ago. And it was announced earlier this week that Jonathan Spector had suffered an injury in training that will keep him out for at least two weeks after spraining his LCL. With Spector out of the lineup, Tommy Redding is expected to play in defense. There’s that depth issue again. Today will be the first time that either Powers or Yotun will (theoretically) be available for selection. 

And Orlando City meets the Red Bulls at a time when they have recently been red hot. They are 4 – 2 – 0 over their last six matches, dropping the most recent darby with NYCFC to allow the Bronx Blues to get some separation from them on the table, so the Red Bulls will be hot to get points and try to narrow the gap again. 

Players to Watch

The Red Bulls have two players in double-digits for the season. Bradley Wright-Phillips is sitting on 13 goals, while Daniel Royer has 10. The MLS injury report lists Royer as out with a knee injury, but the same source also projects Dwyer in the starting lineup for Orlando City, so I’m not sure what those people are smoking and what Pony Express riders they are using to get their information. So Royer may be out or he may be playing today.

And the Red Bulls have great playmakers as well. Sacha Kljestan may look like a villain from an old Keystone Kops movie, but he leads MLS in assists on the year with 12. He is followed on the team by Felipe (5), Kemar Lawrence (4), and Gonzalo Veron (3). And then of course there is Orlando City fan favorite Aurelien Collin, who is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, but given the MLS site track record he could be fit as a fiddle.

For the visitors it will largely be a question of whether Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas are able to create any open space in the attack without Dom Dwyer on the pitch to draw the attention of defenders. Yoshi can create plays, so we’ll see if he’s started to develop any chemistry with the rest of the lads yet and if he gets the ball to the open man at the right time to put one in the back of the net. And of course there’s always Kaka, who can rise up and score a goal every now and then just to remind everyone that he’s still a threat on offense.

Prediction

On paper this doesn’t look like a great matchup for Orlando City. Through 22 matches, the Red Bulls have scored 34 goals while allowing 29 (+5 goal differential). But in 23 contests Orlando City has only managed 24 goals and has allowed 33 (-9 goal differential). The Red Bulls are mad about falling behind their cross-town rivals and they are on home turf, where they are averaging nearly 2 goals a game and have scored 4 or more twice this season. Meanwhile, Orlando City is averaging less than a goal per match away from Orlando City Stadium, and they have won only twice on the road.

There comes a time when you realize that, in the words of Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.” And right now our record says that Orlando City is an underperforming, mediocre team. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls are solidly in the playoff hunt. Statistics don’t favor our chances today, and I’m sorry to say that I can’t bring myself to predict a win either. Unfortunately, I think the Red Bulls win this one by the tally of 3 – 1.

What are your thoughts? Do you think Orlando City can pull off the road upset? Do you believe Yoshi and Dillon Powers will prove to be the “secret sauce” that helps Orlando City get back on track? Or do you think that the club still needs to do some tinkering in the coming off-season before the team starts to look like it will be a contender? Let me know in the comments below!

NYRB vs. OCSC: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

I went back and I re-read my post-match review from Friday's home match against Houston, and I realized I had become a bit cynical and jaded, and I was perhaps guilty of kicking a team when it was down.

So I've decided that for the rest of the season I'm not going to write my match recaps until I have a chance to have a real good think and I can at least have something positive to say about the match. I also have standing commitments on Wednesday nights and the club has just made it impossible for me to break all of them recently with too many back-to-back-to-back Wednesday fixtures, so I had to watch the match today after work today.

I was disappointed with the loss, and I thought there were some bad things that some of the players did, but my main concern is with the front office. I can understand if they felt like they needed to fire Coach Heath, and I can even see having to do that mid-season. But it seems woefully incompetent for the team to make that decision just as the mid-season transfer window opens and not have a permanent new head coach you can name either in the very same press conference or at least by the next day. How does this organization expect they are going to attract any desirable talent to come and play here if there's not a coach in place to provide a clear vision of what skills he needs, how he's going to arrange and deploy the players on the pitch, and how getting them to buy into those roles is going to help the club win?

The incompetence with which they timed and executed the dismissal of their coach without a better replacement already committed to the job proves that they are incapable of doing anything to make the team better between now and the end of the season. As fans, we had better start getting behind the players, because it is going to be their determination, their desire, their will, and their effort alone that will give us any chance to make the MLS playoffs this season. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on last night's match...

The Good

  • Energy level / body language: The players for Orlando City displayed more energy and seemed to be enjoying playing more last night in New York than at any time I have seen them since the US Open Cup match against Ft. Lauderdale. Particularly I'd like to give kudos to Brek Shea, Carlos Rivas, Seb Hines, David Mateos, and Antonio Nocerino. All of them looked more active and engaged and energetic than I have seen in quite a few matches. 
  • Clearing the ball: At home matches I often go hoarse screaming at the defense to clear the damn ball out of the danger area, when they seem to have this morbid fascination with seeing how quickly they can give it back to the attacking team inside the penalty box after they have stolen it away. I was pleased to see that they finally have learned to pay attention to me. Last night, every time they stole the ball from the Red Bulls in front of Joe Bendik's net, within one or two touches they were booming the ball back to or beyond the middle of the pitch to get it out of danger. I guess it's better late than never that they figure out how to keep the other team from getting multiple chances on goal.
  • Ball Movement: It broke down late in the second half, but I was pleased with how the club strung together passes with purpose during the times that they did get the ball. Admittedly the Red Bulls are a great possession team and held the ball for 65% during the first half, but when Orlando City did get the ball, they would manage to move it across the pitch and all the way up to the attacking half.
  • Duels & Tackles: Orlando City has been very poor lately in winning duels and getting tackles. Last night they were dead even on tackles won (11 for each team) and they were close to even in the duels won (NYRB edged OCSC by a count of 53 to 50). Now I know what you're thinking--that didn't help the team score any goals or win the match, but to my eye they looked so much improved from where they seemed to be against Ft. Lauderdale in June and against Dallas on July 4. I even thought they played a lot better than they did against Houston on Friday night--it's just that the Red Bulls have the best set piece attack in the league.
  • Joe Bendik: "Super" Joe was bandaged and bloodied by the end of the match, and he turned in his usual gritty performance. I think that aside from the set pieces the defense actually did more to help him out this match, especially by clearing the ball like I mentioned before. Hopefully now the rest of the lads will start rewarding him by scoring some goals to give him some support!

The Bad

  • Set Piece Offense: We didn't have many set piece opportunities on the night, and when they came we didn't take advantage of them very well. For example, the first free kick opportunity seemed like something out of an Abbott and Costello routine, with Rivas (the speedster) trying to pass the ball to a running Luke Boden (the better passer) and completely overshooting him. If you have a young, fast player and and older, slower player with a bit better touch, you let the slow guy pass the ball to the fast guy on the run so he can do something with it!
  • Set Piece Defense: Coming into the night, the Red Bulls already had 12 goals scored from set pieces, which was 4 more than any other club in the league. And on the broadcast the commentators said that Coach Murphy had talked about defending set pieces during his comments about preparation for the game. But they still gave up two set piece goals. Now I've about decided that despite the signings that were supposed to bring us extra depth and the addition of OCB which is supposed to help develop players for the first team, OCSC is just plain less talented in 2016 than it was in 2015. Two very energetic players in Aurelien Collin and Adrian Winter are gone from the team, and I don't see where we have better players than those two to plug in at the positions where they were playing. So maybe I'm expecting too much from this bunch to expect that they could be capable of defending set pieces against the club that is the best in the league at executing them.
  • Lack of Possession: I've already alluded to this before, but OCSC was down 35% to 65% on possession in the first half. The match finished a bit more evenly, with the Red Bulls having a 56.2% to 43.8% possession advantage for the match, and the team created some chances in the second half.
  • Poor Finishing: Unfortunately, creating chances is not the same as finishing them. When Orlando City did get the ball in the scoring area, they could not get quality shots on goal. Mostly they seemed to want to dance around the ball looking for a perfect shot, and by the time they did strike, either a defender or the Red Bulls keeper was in position to make the save or the block. Those strikes need to be more decisive and come on the first or second touch instead of waiting for the defenders to get in position to foil the attempt.

The Ugly

  • Playing too Deep Defensively: I said the energy was up and that was pleasing to me. The team also started fast, with lots of pressure in the first ten minutes, and that pressure seemed to go away for the middle 70 minutes and came back in the final 10. In the meantime, the team played way too defensively and deeply within a shell, allowing the Red Bulls to penetrate deep into scoring territory before they met any defensive resistance. When you let the other team play that deeply, you're going to give up a lot of set pieces, and against a team like the Red Bulls, set pieces turn into goals way too often. I'd like to see the team be more assertive and push the ball forward more consistently. I want Joe Bendik to feel like a Maytag Repair Man so that he doesn't have anyone that wants to come talk to him or play in front of his net during matches.
  • Harrison Heath injured: We've got a shaky roster and no permanent head coach named, so it's bad to see a player go out with an injury. The younger Heath had to be subbed off at halftime for Darwin Ceren, and Heath will not make the trip to Vancouver so he can be evaluated by team doctors in Orlando.
  • Shea's Fifth Yellow: Brek Shea will have to sit out the match in Vancouver as well, but in his case it was a self-inflicted suspension. He blatantly shoved a Red Bulls player in the second half and then barked at the referee when he called the obvious and blatant foul. It could be that the shove was a case of the last guy drawing the whistle, but we still have too many players who play out of control with respect to their emotions. We all know who the players are that accumulate way too many yellow cards. I'd like to see the players channel that emotion into focus on the pitch, because I think we'd get more wins and find ourselves higher up the table.

What were your thoughts on the game? Do you see anything that leads you to believe the players can rally to make a run for the playoffs, or does the season feel like a lost cause to you at this point? Let me know in the comments below!

Stoppage Time: July 12, 2016

This week in Stoppage Time:

  • Comparing OCSC at the half in 2016 to the midway point in 2015
  • Thoughts on some recent fan reactions to Orlando City firing Adrian Heath
  • Preview of NYRB vs. OCSC tomorrow night

 

If you have questions tweet them to me @lionsteethblog on twitter. Use the hashtag #STQ for Stoppage Time Questions, and I'll try to answer them on a future video update!

NYRBvOCSC: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

It was another match that started in promise and ended in frustration for Orlando City. My purple blood is still bleeding just fine, but I'm a bit weary of some segments of our fan base bleating like sheep when things don't go the team's way instead of taking a bit more critical look at the actual ebb and flow of the match. But we'll get to that in good time.

The Good

  • Cyle Larin - It's a match in New York, so why wouldn't he score? He seems to love the two stadiums in the New York metropolitan area more than most, because he's scored 8 goals in his last three matches there. Tonight he put Orlando City up 1 - 0 in the 3rd minute, marking the fifth goal that Orlando City has scored in the opening 15 minutes of matches.
  • Joe Bendik - I'm not going to blame the 3 goals scored against Orlando City on the keeper. If you want to see who deserves the blame, keep reading to the Ugly section. Bendik made heroic save after heroic save throughout the first half and into the second, and he finished the match with 6 saves credited, just as many as he had at the 1 - 0 victory against NYCFC last month.

The Bad

  • The Blown Call - In the 63rd minute Karl Ouimette blatantly took down Cyle Larin just outside the New York area and referee Hilario Grajeda made no call. The FS1 commentators declared it was clearly a Red Card foul for stopping a goal scoring opportunity and it should have resulted in Ouimette being ejected, putting the Red Bulls down a man. Adding insult to injury, New York drew level two minutes later, and went on to take a 3 - 1 lead before the same Karl Ouimette scored an own goal in the 84th minute to bring Orlando City back to within one. 
  • Complacency - After the fast start to the match, Orlando City seemed to grow complacent, or at least not to understand that after suffering six defeats in seven matches, the Red Bulls would be playing with some sense of desperation. As such, the Red Bulls were not exactly reckless on the pitch, but they threw every effort they could into dispossessing Orlando City of the ball and mounting attacks. For the next 42 minutes of the match until half time, the Red Bulls kept the ball in the attacking third of the field except for a handful of minutes when Orlando City launched some ineffective counter-attacks that didn't provide much threat to the Red Bulls goal.

The Ugly

  • Pitiful Effort - The match ended with all the stats that demonstrate a will to win in the Red Bulls favor. New York outshot Orlando City by the count of 25 to 11, passed the ball more and completed more passes (420 to 296 / 80% to 73%), had more corner kicks (8 to 6), won more duels (50 to 45), won more tackles (14 to 10), were called for more offsides fouls--which shows they were actually trying to attack the goal (5 to 0), committed fewer fouls (12 to 13), and had fewer yellow cards (1 to 3). The only meaningful stat that was in Orlando City's favor was Clearances (29 to 11), and that just emphasizes that the Red Bulls had way too many chances down in front of our goal that were caused by the players not being attentive and up to the task. 
  • Misplaced Blame - twitter can sometimes be a wonderful way to have conversations with people during a live event, but it can also be a way to see just how myopic and uneducated some fans can be. After the blown call in the 63rd, nearly every other tweet by Orlando City fans was about the blown call. A few people were putting the blame where it belonged--the inept performance of the team in not being able to keep the ball off the feet of Red Bulls players--but most fans seemed content to blame one poor non-call by Grajeda for the misfortunes of the team.
  • Lack of Focus - In the last three matches (the loss at Philly, the tie vs. New England, and tonight's loss at the Red Bulls, I'm seeing a lot of patterns that look like the team just is not focused and hungry. They seem to give the ball away way too easily through errant passes, they get out of position to allow too many counter-attacks, and they rely too much on last second acrobatic blocks inside the six-yard box to make up for a porous defense that allows way too many buildups by the opposition. I'd like to see Inchy go high school football coach on the lads and make the whole team do wind sprints across the pitch in practice every time someone fails to pass the ball to the feet of the teammate they are trying to reach. I think that somehow the players look at a match like the Portland game a few weeks ago that made everything look so easy and they just expect every game to go that way, and then they shrug it off when they don't connect. 

I call the games like I see them, and I admit that tonight I'm more than a little angry and disappointed at the very poor performance of the team overall. The absolute truth is that the New York Red Bulls wanted the match more, they did more to deserve the win, and they got the result that their efforts created. If we want to see our lads in purple coming out of matches with three points, they are going to have to learn how to give more effort, play more assertively, and prevent the other team from being able to build up so many attacks that drive so deeply into the attacking third of the pitch.

I know there are probably a few readers who disagree with me, and some of you probably have even played and coached more than I have. I welcome your counter-point and commentary, if you think you can diagnose what the team is doing wrong and what they need to do to be deserving of a result, because I don't think any fan who looks at the game with a sober set of eyes can say that Orlando City deserved three points, or even a draw out of the match tonight. 

So tell me your thoughts--I'd love to read them in the comments below!