OCSC vs. Sporting KC: Previews and Predictions

Can we all admit that we are just a little bit glad that Sporting KC will not have Dom Dwyer available for selection tomorrow when they come to visit Orlando City? After the last two matches, the Lions will need a little luck to get back on the correct path and keep their two-match skid from turning into a dumpster fire.

The last time Orlando City played at home two weeks ago, the lads were sitting at the top of the table, and more importantly, had a +5 goal differential. Now after the last two losses, including the forgettable loss at Houston last Saturday, the team have slipped to second place, but have lost the entire goal differential and are even on the season. That really hurts.

Saturday night the team will face off against Sporting KC, which is sitting second in the Western Conference at the time this post is being composed (before Friday night's match between Houston and Vancouver). Orlando City has played one less match, but the two teams are even on 18 points going into the weekend. Both teams are coming off of a loss, and both are 4 - 2 over their last six matches, although SKC has managed to sprinkle its losses in between wins instead of clumping them together.

Orlando City: The Season So Far

After nine matches in the season, it's good to look at where the club is at the quarter pole. With a record of 6 - 3 - 0, one thing that we can say so far is that it appears the club has shaken the tendency to draw matches. They either win with a stout defense and modest total of goals (Orlando City has yet to score more than two goals in a single match so far), or they lose because their usually strong defense is unable to score goals when the striking boots go cold: Orlando City has only given up more than one goal three times on the season (twice allowing 2 goals and once allowing four goals).  

Another remarkable fact that my logical brain does not think is likely to extend for the whole season is that the club have outright won every match at home. And a fact that I hope does not continue to be true for the rest of the season is that they have won only a single match on the road. My crystal ball is decidedly cracked when it comes to giving exact predictions, but given the way the lads have played so far, I can look at the next two months and see some trouble ahead.

The reason I say that is that in a span of 6 weeks, Orlando City will have 3 periods where they play 3 matches in the span of 8 or 9 days (teams in bold below represent teams currently in a playoff position):

  • Starting May 13: 3 matches in 9 days (5/13 vs. Sporting KC, 5/17 @ San Jose, 5/21 vs. NYCFC)
  • Starting May 27: 3 matches in 9 days (5/27 @ Minnesota, 5/31 vs. DC United, 6/4 vs. Chicago)
  • Starting June 17: 3 matches in 8 days (6/17 vs. Montreal, 6/21 @ Seattle, 6/24 @ Chicago)

Given that the two back-to-back road losses happened in weeks with 3 games and short rest, it's not entirely inconceivable to see the team struggle in a similar fashion, especially given that five of the nine teams sit in playoff positions right now.

There are two factors which should give Orlando City fans some perspective to endure the coming six weeks of hell. The first is that there are no matches for the team between the June 4 and June 17 match, giving the team two weeks of rest between those games; the other is that after the July 5 match vs. Toronto, Orlando City has a summer break and does not have to play again until July 21, a full 16 days later. There are also no more multi-match weeks until late September, when the makeup match against the New England Revolution is played on Wednesday, September 27.

Still, between now and June 24, I could see the team winning less than half their matches, although I hope that they manage to take some draws if they can't get all three points on a given night. It's pretty rotten to think of that happening, and I hope that cracked crystal ball proves flawed in making that prediction.

 Match vs. Sporting KC: Players to Watch

The big news for both clubs is that Orlando City fan favorite and Sporting KC leading goal scorer Dom Dwyer is suspended for the match due to yellow card accumulation. If Dwyer were traveling with the team, it is likely that he is the only player in MLS from an opponent that could go watch the match with The Wall in the Supporters End and be universally showered with love while doing so. That's because Dwyer's magical performance in the 2013 USL Championship Match helped Orlando City win a 7 - 4 incredible game and their second USL Championship in three years.

In Dwyer's absence, Benny Feilhaber and Gerso Fernandes are the leading scorers for Sporting KC with two goals each. And between the pipes for the visitors, SKC's Tim Melia has recorded six shutouts and has only conceded five goals in 10 matches, and has registered 29 saves on the year.

Meanwhile Orlando City has Cyle Larin and Kaka entering the match as the leading scorers with six and two goals respectively. The team has scored a total of 11 goals in nine matches, but after the awful last two matches they had, they have also conceded an equal amount of goals. Joe Bendik has recorded three shutouts on the year, and has registered 32 saves on the season. 

And the two players that seemed to be key in the last two losses for Orlando City were Will Johnson and Jonathan Spector. In the game at Toronto, Johnson was not in the lineup for the 2 - 1 loss; and Spector did not even appear on the bench in the drubbing the team took from Houston. It seems like without these two players in the defensive lineup, the team still struggles to keep opponents from getting good looks and being able to take shots on goal.


I am feeling cautiously hopeful in this match for two reasons. The first is the obvious that has been stated before--no Dom Dwyer. The second is that in its five road matches, Sporting KC has only managed to score one goal all season. I hope that total doesn't rise on Saturday and that the lads can help Joe Bendik register his fourth clean sheet of the year. In terms of how many Orlando City will score, let's hope it's more than zero, and I would love to see it be more than two or three or four. But given SKC's very stingy defense, it's hard to see them giving up more than a single goal on the night. So I am going to predict what seems like a probable score line of 1 - 0 in favor of Orlando City.

What about you? What are your thoughts on the match? Do you foresee a victory for Orlando City, or do you think the last two losses will have a hangover effect on the team? Will this be the week that Orlando City's potential goal scorers turn that potential into reality with a bucket of goals, or do you foresee a scoreless draw on the night? Let me know in the comments below!

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

What a difference a week makes. Last week I posted my 2016 at the quarter mark, and I identified several things that were areas of concern, and I also pointed out some things that the club seemed to be doing better this year, such as being ahead of last year's pace on points and goals scored. But then this week happens, and it almost makes me want to tear that up and write a whole new prediction, but I'm holding off until the halfway point.

Sporting KC got a very deserved win. When we get into a discussion of the numbers (see below) it is clear that the home side came to play today and our lads were just not competitive in the match. The only injustice that could have come out of this match, according to the way the players on the pitch executed their assignments, is if the own goal that gave Orlando City the initial lead had held up as the only score of the contest.

For now, I just want to be done talking about this horrible match as quickly as possible and leave it to the people who have the opportunity and authority to change the direction of the team to get to work finding solutions instead of making excuses.

The Good

  • Joe Bendik - Our goaltender deserves MVP of the team honors so far this season. If anyone disagrees, I'd like for you to use something other than your ignorant, irrelevant, and uneducated opinion. Seriously, if you disagree with me on this you had better get to a hospital pronto, because even your autonomic nervous system is too stupid to realize it's supposed to keep your lungs breathing and heart beating without being told what to do by someone more intelligent than you are. OK... so maybe that's a little harsh, but I am not seeing anyone else on the pitch in an Orlando City uniform playing consistently. Today Bendik had 10 saves. To put that in perspective, many MLS keepers can play a month of matches without having to make 10 saves. To put that another way, if Bendik had only made half as many saves (five is still a high number), then the score would have been 7 - 1 in favor of Sporting Kansas City. If you're a fan of a certain age you might remember TV ads that appeared every year around the holidays featuring NFL quarterbacks from the 1980s. They would tell you how they were buying some brand of gloves to keep the hands of their offensive linemen warm because those were the hands that protected him from getting sacked every play. Well forget gloves--every player on the roster who is not Joe Bendik should be pitching in to buy that guy whatever he wants: sports car, new house, luxury ski boat, whatever. Because he's the only guy out there that deserves to be drawing a paycheck every week.
  • Nothing - Absolutely nobody or nothing else about this match deserves a "good" grade from Orlando City's perspective. The only good that can possibly come from this is if the team collectively wakes the hell up and starts playing much better soccer than they have in the past half dozen matches. More on that later.

The Bad

  • Pass Selection - I educate the team and the coaching staff about this after every match, and so far they have been too daft to pay attention and learn from my godlike wisdom. OK, so maybe I don't have all the answers, but I keep seeing the team doing the same stupid things and suffering the same awful results (anything less than a win is awful because I'm a fan, you understand). So I would at least like to see the team TRY something different when it comes to passing and see if that works. What I mean by bad pass selection is that this team seems to have fallen in love with the long ball and the quick-strike attempt. If an Orlando City player tackles the ball away from an opponent down in front of our goal and he has seven teammates out in front of him, ranging from 5 yards to 75 yards up the pitch, invariably our lad will try to get the ball up to the guy 75 yards away in one massive kick. It is as though our players are blind to the chances to make controlled passes and patiently build up an attack to get some numbers forward, and instead they opt for the lowest percentage pass they can possibly make, and it winds up either overshooting their man for a goal kick or getting intercepted by the opponent and foiling any chance we have to mount pressure on the opponent's goal.
  • Defending Midfielders - It would be way too easy to simply say our "defense" is bad, and I would agree with anyone that at this point in the season we are a very poor defensive team. But if you look closer at the defense, there are actually some places on the pitch where we play pretty good defense. For instance, when the opponent gets the ball inside our 18-yard box, we have a tendency to get numbers back and make it hard for opponents to have an uncontested shot on goal. To illustrate my point, Orlando City had 29 clearances today. That means 29 times someone other than the keeper cleared the ball out of the attacking third and (at least momentarily) stopped a scoring opportunity. The problem with the defense is that we are letting the ball get down in the attacking third 29 times that have to be cleared. Our defense needs to be stopping the other team about the center line of the pitch and keep the course of play in our attacking half of the pitch, not our defending half.
  • Lack of Motion - I see a lot of standing around from players that don't have the ball. These guys are professional soccer players, and that means they get paid to run. They're not NFL linemen who have to explode for 100% effort for three seconds and then stand around for two minutes with their hands on their knees. If you don't have the ball on your feet, then get your ass moving somewhere that you can do something useful, such as marking an opponent, getting open for a teammate to pass you the ball, putting yourself in the path of an opponent who is running to get the ball or doing something. It's probably not true, and I know this, but sometimes I feel like there are players on our team who run less than the assistant referees who are supposed to cover just one half of the pitch up and down the sidelines.
  • Tabular Freefall - After the victory over Portland on April 4, I posted a piece that showed us sitting atop the table in the Eastern Conference. It was the first time the club had ever reached that lofty position, and it seems like it will probably be the last time we see it this season. Now the club has slipped below the red line, and if they don't start playing better we may not see the top side of that line again before 2017 rolls around.

The Ugly

  • The Numbers Say it All - This whole match was just a dumpster fire in terms of Orlando City's performance outside of the goaltender. There are no numbers you can look at to see any kind of reasons to suggest or hope that the team is making any kind of improvements. In fact, over the last few matches the team seems to be playing much, much worse, and today was by far the most disappointing game of the year in terms of the team looking like they didn't even belong in the same league with Sporting KC. And let's not kid ourselves--Sporting KC is a good team, but they have struggled recently, coming into today having lost six matches in a row. That's just how bad we were today.
    • Shots: Sporting KC 34, Orlando City 7 -- for those playing at home, that's nearly a 5:1 ratio of shots that Sporting KC took over Orlando City.
    • Shots on Goal: Sporting KC 13, Orlando City 0 -- realize this: Sporting KC had more shots on goal than Orlando City had just plain shots for the whole match.
    • Duels Won: Sporting KC 44, Orlando City 38 -- remember those long, low-percentage passes I was complaining about earlier? This is what happens when you do that. Those long passes often result in 50-50 balls (duels) and Orlando City has been consistently getting outplayed on those all season.
    • Tackles Won: Sporting KC 15, Orlando City 8 -- for fans of American football, a tackle in soccer means to strip the ball away from an opponent. This is now the third or fourth match in a row where Orlando City is getting seriously outclassed in this category by our opponents. And of course when an opponent strips the ball off our players' feet, it creates a possession and potential attacking and scoring opportunity for them. This also goes back to those low-percentage passes and frivolously giving the ball away. Our players are not executing the fundamental principles of playing good, sound soccer right now, and it's painful to watch.
    • Passing Success: (Overall) Sporting KC 402 of 472 (85%), Orlando City 320 of 396 (80%); (Defensive Third) Sporting KC 52 of 53 (98%), Orlando City 83 of 85 (97%); (Middle Third) Sporting KC 183 fo 205 (89%), Orlando City 198 of 248 (80%); (Attacking Third) Sporting KC 157 of 214 (78%), Orlando City 39 of 63 (62%). These numbers do not lie and they bear out my assertion that the team are not building up patient attacks and turning the ball over way too much in our own end. If you focus on just the attacking third alone, you'll see that Sporting KC had 214 pass attempts vs. only 63 pass attempts for Orlando City, which is more than a 3.5:1 ratio.

Unfortunately, the one thing I don't have for the team is answers. If I thought I could offer the team some sage advice that would help them win, I would quit my day job, sell my house, and buy a pup tent and just go camp out on the grounds at the Lake Sylvan Soccer Complex where the team trains until Phil Rawlins had me arrested for being a nuisance or until Coach Heath and the lads started listening to me and winning because I knew what the hell I was talking about.

I do have a suspicion, however, that whatever flaws or weakness in the team and its tendencies I am seeing, the other coaching staffs and players around MLS have long since identified those in a much more technical and precise way than I can, and they are deploying game plans to exploit those weaknesses at every turn. I think maybe what the coaches need to do is to scout our team in the way that an opponent would. Alternately, Phil Rawlins and Flavio can pay a consulting fee to an EPL manager to look at tape of our team and identify the most glaring errors so that Inchy and the other coaches can address that with the lads in practice and start getting the problems corrected. The European season is over and the managers are all about to lose players from their team for the Olympics for a couple of months, so they should have some free time on their hands to earn a little coin from an upstart American MLS club that needs someone to look over their shoulder and tell them what needs fixing.

I'm sorry if anyone takes offense and if it sounds like I'm saying that our coaches and players aren't capable of fixing the problems themselves. But I look at the numbers and the performances match after match and I just see things getting worse. So clearly it seems like we are going in the wrong direction somehow. At any rate, smarter minds than mine will have to figure out what the club needs to do to fix whatever is wrong.

So what are your thoughts on today's match? Do you have any good, bad, or ugly points you'd like to contribute? Do you think I'm being unfairly critical or not critical enough of some individuals or issues with the team? Do you think I should give more credit or praise to a player or scheme than I am giving? Let me know in the comments below!

SKC vs. OCSC: Initial Reaction

Please excuse me while I rant.


OK. I'm done ranting. I will now write a rational, reasoned, and objective reaction post. Look for it in a while...