I am so angry that I could spit venom for six days. In the words of the late John Hillerman as Jonathan Quayle Higgins, “Oh my God!”Read More
This year is going to be one of those years when I have little time outside the weekend to write my previews, so my Starting XI predictions are likely to be a bit off after news filters out during the week.
Instead of editing my post that I wrote last Sunday and published yesterday, I’m just going to update my Starting XI prediction in this post.
Starting XI Redux
If this lineup looks familiar, then it should—it’s the same Starting XI that Coach James O’Connor trotted out last week in the opener. There’s a few reasons why I liked this lineup more and more as the week unfolded.
DPs not yet ready - you don’t have to read too far between the lines with Coach O’Connor, and he was pretty clear in interviews this week that he thinks we need to be careful with how we manage minutes for both Dom Dwyer and Nani. Nani doesn’t have any injuries per se, but he’s adjusting to a new league and I think Coach wants to put him in situations where he can change the game and the rest of the team can begin trusting his leadership on the pitch. Dwyer is still recovering from a quad injury, and it sounds like O’Connor believes a lot of our injury troubles in this club in the past have come from rushing players back on the pitch too soon.
Youth and Exuberance are Working - There’s a lot of youth and inexperience on the pitch in key places, especially at the left back. But Kamal Miller did a pretty good job for his first MLS start when facing the threat that NYCFC brings. CJ Sapong will be a tough test, and the lad is only going to learn how to be a better defender by facing down those tough challenges.
Johnson was underappreciated last week - You remember that breakaway chance Moralez had in the second half last week. We all credit Brian Rowe with a great 1-on-1 save as we should, but Will Johnson actually helped to cut off an angle for Moralez to shoot. Had Johnson not been breathing down his neck, Moralez could have taken a bit more time and been a little craftier with his shot to try to fake out which side he was going to shoot. But Johnson hurried his shot, just like a blitzing linebacker can rush a quarterback into throwing a bad pass in football. I’m a bit sore with Johnson over the domestic issue a couple of seasons back, and he’s made his share of mistakes on the pitch. But if he has better players around him, maybe having less of the pitch to cover will improve his effectiveness.
Mueller Needs to Trust Himself - we all saw last season how Chris Mueller was one of the least selfish players on the pitch. Sometimes he looks to pass too often instead of looking for the open shot. In pre-season he looked like he had gained some confidence but last week he became a bit more hesitant. His teammates need to build him up and encourage him to grow into that number 9 kit, because once he starts challenging keepers on every possession he gets inside the box, that kid is going to be something special. I hope that he can get some of that encouragement on the pitch during matches.
Tesho’s Talented Toes - Tesho Akindele may be the best partner that any of our players on the pitch can have at the top of the formation. In pre-season he and Mueller were combining for goals all over the yard, and in last weeks opener he was the perfect outlet for Dom Dwyer to send a cross to and score the equalizer. All the reports I have read say that other players on the squad love playing with him, and that he enjoys helping the team by creating, scoring, or just being a decoy that opposing defenses need to consider a threat.
Of course this lineup may not be correct either, but I think it has a better chance than the one I predicted last Sunday when i wrote my match preview post. i’m still predicting a draw—and that has as much to do with my “prove you’re better this year” approach to Orlando City as it does with the fact that MLS has one of the most lopsided home pitch advantages in all of pro sports leagues.
I've been trying to find any way possible to feel better about this three-match losing streak that Orlando City finds itself in, and I really can't. Watching this team squander chance after chance and find ways to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory is simply nauseating.
Last night's match was a perfect example of everything that is wrong about this team. If you take away the score line and you look at the headline stats, this team sounds impressive. Here are some numbers to consider from the match against Chicago Fire.
Stats Orlando City Won
- Shots 21 - 10
- Shots on Target 6 to 4
- Corners 8 to 3
- Total Passes 511 to 342
- Passing Accuracy 90% to 82%
- Possession 60.1% to 39.9%
- Duels Won 60 to 52
In fact, for well over 60 of the 90 minutes of the match, Orlando City seemed to be the only team attacking. While Orlando City's possession numbers look impressive, breaking those down to possession in the final third is staggering. For emphasis, I've included a heatmap from the excellent whoscored.com site with some emphasis added in the form of yellow boxes around the goal each team is attacking.
A heat map notes the average position of players throughout the 90 minutes. Dark areas are "cold" indicating where the players are not spending much time. Blue indicates a cool presence, and other colors indicate a more active presence, with red showing the highest concentration of player presence for each team.
Looking at the map on the left, for Orlando City, we can see that the largest concentration of red is in the attacking half of the pitch, and that there is a significant amount of presence inside the yellow box, indicating that there was a lot of activity by Orlando City in the Chicago penalty area during the match. By contrast on the right, Chicago was essentially nonexistent in the box in front of Joe Bendik's goal for the 90 minutes, and they had almost no play across the midfield stripe in the center of the pitch, instead simply pushing up the edges, and hardly at all as high as the penalty box. And the biggest concentration of red for the Chicago Fire is literally right in front of their own goal--showing the desperate effort they were throwing into defending the repeated attacks by Orlando City.
What Went Wrong
So what is the glaring problem? How could Orlando City lose a match when the stats look this dominant? The coach will give his excuses and the players will give their excuses, and whining fans that like to bitch about the referees will give their excuses. But the real culprit, in my opinion, is that Orlando City's ability to finish is just not good enough.
A clue to this is looking at the few significant stats that Chicago did win on the night, which are all defensive in nature. The visitors won the following statistical categories:
- Blocked Shots: 4 to 3
- Tackles Won: 16 to 13
- Saves: 5 to 2
- Clearances: 22 to 4
What I don't see from Orlando City is enough individual assertiveness. There's a fine line between selfishness and assertiveness, but the difference is huge. While selfishness can be destructive and detrimental to the locker room, assertiveness can be a tremendous boon for results on the pitch.
You see evidence of this lack of assertiveness in the pace of play Orlando City adopts. They are like a basketball team that runs a half-court offense in that they will rush the ball across the midfield line, but then they are content to kick it around and pass it between players umpteen times before they ever try for a shot. And then when they do try a shot they always miss the opportune moment, as though they are waiting for the perfect opportunity.
If you sit in the stands or watch a road match from a bar, the entire fan base will be screaming at the players, "shoot! shoot! shoot!" when they get into the box. But the players seem to wait too long--they either miss the opening that we all see and shoot late so that the defense blocks the shot, or they try one more ill-advised pass that gets intercepted and the entire chance is squandered without an attempt being made.
This team needs a player that has the ego (and a small measure of the skill) of a Ronaldo. if Cyle Larin had ever learned to dribble and run with the ball on his feet, he might have become that player. He certainly had the assertiveness, but his skill set is so limited he needs teammates to create the opportunities for him. MLS is not a league that has an abundance of great set-up artists that are happy to be the player that gives the assist to a teammate. The irony is that it seems like everyone on this year's Orlando City roster wants to be the guy that helps his teammate score, and most of them seem embarrassed to try to hog the glory for themselves.
Right now, this team is just not good enough to win games consistently, and the result they received last night is the one they earned and the one they deserved. Until this team can learn how to finish chances as competently as they can create those opportunities, Orlando City fans will have many more long months and possibly long years of watching what is rapidly turning into the 1909 - 2015 Chicago Cubs of the MLS.
It's Memorial Day weekend, there's an early tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico, the Champions League final is today, and both of Orlando City's teams are in action today. After the Pride play at Chicago Red Stars this afternoon, Orlando City's MLS side will host the Chicago Fire at Orlando City Stadium.
Orlando City will be trying to end a two-game losing streak when the Fire come to town, and they will have to do so with a roster that has a few key pieces missing or questionable for the match. Yoshimar Yotun and Amro Tarek are away for International duty, and several players are still listed as out or questionable with injury.
- OUT: GK - Mason Stajduhar (Localized Ewing Sarcoma), D - Jonathan Spector (concussion), F - Dom Dwyer (lower body injury)
- QUESTIONABLE: D - Scott Sutter (lower body injury)
While the MLS injury report lists Dwyer as unavailable, Orlando Sentinel beat writer Jordan Culver reports that Jason Kreis has said he is hopeful the striker will be available this weekend. So put whatever stock you wish into that. All I can say is that the beat writers tend to have a better eye for who is in and who is out than the league does. Ultimately, of course, it's a decision between the doctors, the player, and the coach if a particular person is in the 18 or the Starting XI.
Chicago (3-6-2 on the season) comes into the match eight points behind Orlando City on the table and below the line. A win would move them potentially into a tie against Philadelphia at 14 points and could put them just below the line. Meanwhile, Orlando City is hoping to improve on their 19 points and perhaps vault the Red Bulls and move as high as fourth place on the table.
If the visitors want to win, they will need to do so with a squad that looks a bit like a M.A.S.H. unit from all the players on the injury report. But Orlando City fans know all too well that the home side has lost the last two matches against Atlanta United and Toronto FC teams that were missing major stars. The team seemed to lack the energy to match the effort of the opponent in both matches, and regardless of who is wearing the shirts for the Fire today, Orlando City will need to outhustle the Fire if they expect to get a result tonight. Here is the league's official injury report on the Chicago Fire.
o OUT: M - Djordje Mihailovic (right ACL surgery), F - Michael de Leeuw (left ACL surgery), D - Matt Polster (MCL sprain), F - Luis Solignac (left quad injury), M - Jon Bakero (right ankle injury), M - Dax McCarty (hamstring strain), F - Elliot Collier (left gastroc injury)
o QUESTIONABLE: None
Players to Watch - Fire and OCSC
Looking through the list of players the MLS expects to be available, here are some potential game changers from both sides, considering players who have put in at least 600 minutes on the pitch this season.
- Justin Meram leads all available players with 2.8 shots per match; he is also completing 80.1% of his passes, winning 1.1 duels per match, and is completing 1.5 key passes per match.
- Lamine Sane leads all available players with an 86.9% pass completion rate; he is winning 1.3 duels per match, making 2.2 tackles per match, and making 3 interceptions and 3.6 clearances per match.
- Sacha Kljestan leads all available players with 2.8 key passes per match; he is also making 1.7 shots per match, is completing 83.1% of his passes, winning 0.7 duels per match, and is making 1.4 tackles per match.
- Bastian Schweinsteiger leads all available players with 3 assists on the season; he is also completing 84.2% of his passes, is winning 2 duels per match, and is making 2.9 tackles and 3.3 clearances per match.
Lineup and Preview
With Dwyer's status up in the air, I am going to fall back on Jason Kreis's Starting XI from the last match, with the exception of Amro Tarek being out and Chris Schuler getting the start again in his place. I believe that Orlando City has the talent and the skill to defeat any team in the league, but they need to play at a higher tempo than they have the last two matches. I hope that we will see this work rate and effort materialize on the pitch tonight. I am very tired of seeing the team allow their opponents to outwork them as they have in the previous two matches. I will go on record as saying that if the Fire is allowed to put in a higher work rate tonight, the visitors will be celebrating a victory and taking home three points from their trip to Orlando.
Despite the woeful performance by the lads in the last two outings, I am optimistic about tonight's match. I think that Orlando City stands a good chance of winning, and I predict a 2 - 1 victory by the lads and another defense of the home pitch. I hope the team prove to be worthy of my faith in their ability to get back on the winning side of the ledger, or I will have to admit to being very disappointed in them.
What are your thoughts on tonight's match? Do you think Orlando City can get the three points and start a new winning streak, or do you think they are suffering deeper problems that will prolong the string of losses? And who do you think Coach Kreis should put in the Starting XI for the match? Let me know in the comments below!
Congratulations, Chicago fan! Your Chicago Fire may just be the most hapless and pathetic group of bumbling misfits in the history of professional sports. After "Unkel Ted" Capone gave two undeserved red cards to the home side within the first 60 minutes of play, the Fire were still incapable of putting a ball into the net and scoring against Joe Bendik and the short-handed Lions.
- The Wall - The Ruckus and the ILF brought it hard and loud in Orlando last night, and the lads definitely needed the boost. After starting the match being down 11 - on - 15 (having both the visiting team and the hired good from the PROReferee mafiosi against them), Orlando City eventually had to finish the match with only nine players. Fortunately one of those players was Joe Bendik in goal, and two others were Jonathan Spector and Will Johnson in the field. The crowd even earned praise and recognition from an unlikely source.
- The Church Street Trinity - It's a good thing the main entrance to the stadium is on Church Street, because it's becoming a site of holy pilgrimage where soccer fans from around the globe come to worship St. Joseph and the Clean Sheets (if you call your band that, I claim royalties on your tour and album sales for owning the copyright on the name). Bendik, Spector, and Johnson are the anchor points for a squad that is vastly improved defensively over last season for Orlando. They are capable of playing lights out as they did last night, spurred on by adversity to prevent any scores by the opponent.
- Officiating - Canadian Midfielder Will Johnson said in post-match comments that he really feels for referees having to make split-second calls in the heat of the moment. That's because he's a player and PROReferee will fine and suspend him for dissenting. But I have no such constraints. This was not the finest performance by referee Ted Unkel. You could see from the beginning how he was going to call a tight game, when Chicago was whistled for so many ticky-tacky fouls and bumps that earned Orlando City multiple free kicks in the first 20 minutes of the match. That is because Ted reads the "laws of the game" like a Constitutional scholar and calls the match by the letter of the law. If a boot is raised too high and studs make contact with another player, that's a straight red by the letter of the law, regardless of the circumstances at the time. I think 99% of soccer referees, soccer fans, and even soccer players would argue that context has to count for something. But in the eyes of a strict interpreter of the law, only the ink on the page matters.
Some may question if I am being a partisan observer here, and I claim absolute adherence to only the pure and honest truth. Rafael Ramos did not deserve a straight red card in the first half. He was tracking the ball and making a play when he was clattered into by the bumbling and incompetent Brandon Vincent, who gave himself an ouchee by getting in the way of Ramos's boots. And the second half sending off of Antonio Nocerino was almost as bad. In that case, Nocerino did have his leg extended with the studs up when Chicago's Matt Polster backed into him. Again, by the letter of the law that is a straight red, but in the context of a visiting team that continually flops and throws themselves on the studs of the home side as though they have some bizarre and disturbing S&M fetish, you really have to learn to keep the card in your pocket, ref. And Matt Polster, please--there are groups that can help with disorders like yours. You may find spikes oddly stimulating, but you could really hurt yourself, so I urge you to seek the help you need.
- Chicago's Scoring Incompetence - You already know about the advantage they had in terms of personnel on the pitch, but that's not the half of it. Chicago also enjoyed the advantage in most of the stats and still couldn't put any goals on the board. Chicago led in Shots (21 to 5), Shots on Goal (6 to 2), Passing and Accuracy (576 @ 89% to 302 @ 78%), Possession (66.2% to 33.8%), and Corner Kicks (9 to 1). But Orlando City prevailed in the stats that really determine the game--the "heart and hustle" stats as I like to call them. The home side foiled the visitors advantage by winning the battle of Duels (40 to 33), Tackles (15 to 9), Saves (6 to 2), and Clearances (32 to 16). The superior team is always the one that outworks and outhustles the opponent. Unfortunately, Chicago also bribed the officiating crew to serve up the undeserved reds and force Orlando to concentrate on defending their goal for most of the match instead of being able to mount many attacks.
What were your thoughts on the match--did you see injustice in the two red cards that Referee Ted Unkel handed out to Ramos and Nocerino, or do you believe they were justified? And was this the best draw you have seen Orlando City salvage from a match, or do you still think it was not as good as the 2016 season opener with two goals in second half stoppage time to bring the team level and get a result? Let me know in the comments below!
After a horrible 2016 that saw them mired near the bottom of the table most of the season, Chicago is truly "en fuego" this season, and they are on an excellent run of form, coming into the weekend winning four matches in a row. They have a dynamic retooled roster and have imported some European talent that is helping to make this team very exciting.
Meanwhile, after struggling most of the month of May, the hosts scored a critical midweek victory on Wednesday to hemorrage the loss of points, as Orlando City took a 2 - 0 shutout victory over struggling DC United, a match which may have produced the MLS Save of the Year sequence by defender Jonathan Spector and goalkeeper Joe Bendik.
Players to Watch
Chicago's excellent form this season has been fueled by great individual efforts as well as good teamwork. Among the most exciting players to watch will be Nemanja Nikolic, who has scored 11 goals on the season to lead all MLS scorers. And the familiar and formiddable David Accam is second on the team with 7 goals on the season. And a player who has recently joined the Fire from Europe, German national team member and World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger, has already registered two goals on the season through ten games with the club. Missing from the visitors will be Dax McCarty, as the MLS veteran has been called up by Bruce Arena for national team duty in a pair of World Cup Qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobego and Mexico.
For Orlando City, the cast of characters will include most of the usual suspects. It's unclear if Kaka's calf injury will allow him to play after missing the last two matches. It would be good to have the Captain back for tonight, especially considering the club will have two weeks off before their next league match on June 17 (the club will host NASL side Miami FC in the US Open Cup on Wednesday, June 14 at Orlando City Stadium). And while they have not seen minutes yet, both Seb Hines and Rafael Ramos have appeared back in the lineup after long spells on the injured list. Aside from them, there are sure to be plenty of offensive chances created by Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas--of course, the perpetual question is how many of those chances can they finish? It's been an unfortunate trend that they have failed to make the best use of most chances that present themselves.
We can talk about which players need to be stopped and which players need to be hot, but the more I watch MLS the more I am convinced it simply comes down to which team plays with more heart and hustle. Every match that Orlando City has won this year is one in which they have outplayed their opponent. They have lost some of those matches, too, mainly due to poor execution on the part of the offense. But in every match that the Lions have allowed themselves to be outplayed, they have lost, and usually lost badly. Two matches that spring to mind are the horrible 4 - 0 beatdown suffered in Houston a few weeks ago, and the more recent 3 - 0 loss at home against NYCFC. In both those matches the opponent controlled just about every meaningful statistic that shows evidence of the team playing with greater will and more hustle.
I think that the home crowd and the great form of Chicago will have Orlando City on their toes for this one. And while it's coming off a midweek match, a key difference in the recent multi-match weeks is that both Wednesday's match and this one have been at home, which means the team has not had to deal with the added stress of road travel between matches. Based on that (and on my tendency to favor my team regardless of what the evidence may tell me), I'm going to predict a 2 - 1 victory for Orlando City, which could vault them back into 2nd place in the Eastern Conference, depending on how the other matches of the weekend play out.
What are your thoughts on this weekend's match--do you think Orlando City will be able to quench the red-hot Fire, or do you think the visitors will continue to burn their way through this stretch of the season and keep their streak of victories rolling? Let me know in the comments below!