Disjointed week disjointed performance. There is not much to say about the first half of our game vs. Orlando except that it was not good enough. We did not execute the game plan consistently enough, and we all have to own it. At halftime we ALL held each other accountable, and challenged one another to get back to Union basics, which resulted into a positive second half performance. A performance that created a more balanced possession approach and displayed the ability to switch play, create man more situations, in addition a more in sync pressing style throughout the middle of the field.
We are proud of how the spirit of the group continues to be unbreakable and fight until the end for each other, even ending with back-to-back scoring chances that would have stolen a point. Lastly, credit to a strong performance by Orlando on the field, and the environment that was created by their supporters. Playing a match this early in the season in a hostile environment like the one we faced on Saturday will make us better prepared for the big games later in the season. We will take this bye week to rest, recover, and reflect with the goal of getting three points at D.C. United.
PRESSURE POCKETS: Pocket Created but Inconsistently Pressurized
Entering the match, we knew we would not be able to press high up the field, but we did want to stay true to our values, and press when the opportunity presented itself. We believed the middle third press pockets to the left and right of the center circle provided an opportunity to turn the heat up on Orlando. Throughout the first half we were able to force them into these positions numerous times, but unable to execute the proper timing of our movements consistently enough to win the ball and transition into our attacking half with the ball. Knowing they had speed and skill in the forwards position (Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas), we aimed to keep our back four intact as much as possible, and use our midfielders to slide across the field and find moments to double down. When we were able to apply this tactic, we were successful, but as stated earlier, in the first half we were not consistent enough with it. The domino effect of this resulted in our team winning the ball very close to our own goal (29.3m from our own goal), and therefore allowing Orlando to set up an immediate high press on their loss of possession, consequently affecting our ability to establish meaningful possession and attack from dangerous areas.
SWITCH OF PLAY = BUILD OF PLAY
On the attacking side of the ball, a major goal was to get Haris Medunjanin (50 successful passes, nine good long balls, six created chances, and 73 touches) on the ball as much as possible, specifically on the left side which would allow Fabinho to advance higher up the field and create man more situations. Secondly, this would free up Derrick Jones to connect us safely from left to right to exploit 1v1 and 2v2 situations if done swiftly enough, but all the while keeping an awareness to penetrate right down that middle if the space presented itself.
In the first half, due to defensive breakdowns and deep ball recoveries this did not present itself often. After some halftime adjustments, re-positioning of center backs in the buildup play, and an improved collective defensive effort we were able to create this situation more frequently. Positively speaking, in the second half we were able to control the tempo, spread the field and maneuver the ball into more advanced attacking positions. We created moments where a better decision, a better run, or better quality pass would have been able to unlock Orlando for scoring chances. A lot of credit to Orlando, they were able to remain organized in the back during our most threatening moments, and break up a couple of those key pass moments and limit our overall clean looks at goal.
SET PLAYS: DEFEND- DESIGN- EXECUTE
A constant focus of the Union for the past two years is attacking and defending set plays. We preach weekly that games are won and lost in both boxes. In the past we have had some success with attacking set plays, and dropped points due to defending set plays. This is the ebb and flow of soccer, but something we do not just dismiss. We have put a big focus on defending set plays this year, and thought we handled ourselves very well against Orlando, especially coming off a set play goal against Toronto. We would have liked to limit their amount around our penalty area and corner kick opportunities a bit better, but overall the team was organized and executed well.
Attacking we were inconsistent with our execution. We were able to create three quality chances off set plays, but also squandered three chances with a combination of poor design and execution. Over the course of the season we will continue to analyze our opponent and implement attacking and defending set play strategies that put us in the best position to win the battle of both boxes.
With a full preseason and the first two out of three games on the road behind us, we finally get a chance to sit back and reflect during the international break (wish Alejandro Bedoya all the best with the USMNT). It will be a time for the bumps and bruises to heal, a time to improve/refine our principles of play, and to push each other as much as possible so we can enter the important month of April (three out of five games at home) on a positive note.