With another clash against Orlando City SC around the corner, it was time to check in with the Lions SB Nation blog, The Mane Land. A massive thanks to Ben Miller for the in-depth look at our Floridian rivals.
Orlando has started seasons strongly in the past, only to soon fizzle out and drop below the playoff line. Can Orlando reach into the upper levels of the East this time, or was its MLS is Back run all just a mirage?
A: I think this team will be the best version of Orlando City that MLS has seen so far, and it definitely has the potential to do well in the Eastern Conference. I think the run to the MLS is Back final perhaps made the team look a little better than it truly is, but while OCSC does have some holes they’ve also shown that there’s a solid foundation for good things to happen. Given what we’ve seen so far, I expect Orlando to comfortably finish somewhere between fifth and second in the East.
Oscar Pareja’s tenure at the helm has progressed nicely so far. What have been the biggest strengths under the Colombian? On the contrary, what needs improvement if Orlando wants to jump to the next level?
Orlando’s ability to maintain possession and play out of the back is probably the thing that the team does best. The Lions had 60% possession against Nashville SC, 64% of the ball against Inter Miami CF, and 64% against the Portland Timbers. While two of those games were losses, the numbers continue a trend that’s been happening all year of Orlando keeping the ball, building patiently, and probing to try and break teams down. The other impressive thing about the possession based play is the team’s calmness and ability to break pressure when playing out of the back.
The biggest improvement however, has to be on set pieces. Both Portland goals came from set pieces, as did the goal that Nashville scored. The Lions have also just looked thoroughly uncomfortable when it comes to defending set pieces, and it’s something that teams seem to have started zeroing in on. For the most part defending during open play has been good, but the dead ball situations definitely need to be cleaned up.
How do you see Saturday’s game playing out? Will Orlando finally break its duck against Atlanta, or will the Five Stripes stay unbeaten?
If Orlando is going to get a first win over Atlanta, then there probably isn’t a better time than right now. OCSC has been playing its best soccer since it entered the league, and I think the two teams are probably the closest that they’ve ever been. I’m going to go on the hopeful side and say that Orlando edges this one by a score of 2-1. The recent emergence of Daryl Dike has made the team look much more dangerous offensively, and if he can continue his form from the last two games then I think it’ll end well for the Lions.