In their last match — and second under new head coach James O’Conner — Orlando City SC finally broke a losing streak that stretched back to early May with a 2-1 win over Toronto FC. Chris Schuler scored the opener after Alex Bono spilled a free kick and Dom Dwyer laced in the winner from outside the box early in the second half.
Seeking to plug a leaky defense while keeping some fresh legs for this Wednesday’s US Open Cup quarterfinal showdown with Philadelphia Union, O’Conner used versatile passing maestro Yoshimar Yotun alongside Will Johnson in midfield. Tony Rocha played an interesting hybrid role that saw him push forward into a central attacking role in possession but drop into the right side of a narrow, three-man midfield defensively. Sacha Kljestan played on the left wing but took every opportunity to move into the left channel and, at times, drift further central or up front when Dom Dwyer checked deep. Chris Mueller took up the right wing role and stayed high and wide in attack but immediately moved toward the middle when Orlando lost the ball, creating a very tight central shape that encouraged Toronto to play deep square passes to the wide areas. Whenever TFC sought to go through the center of the pitch, Orlando quickly pressed the ball and, after winning it back, looked to Yotun as quickly as possible.
This unbalanced shape meant different roles for the two fullbacks. On the left, Mohamed El-Munir provided width when Kljestan moved inside. But on the right, RJ Allen was far more cautious, leaving Will Johnson to link play toward Mueller if Orlando built up the right.
But, notably, nearly all of Orlando’s progression from the back went up the left. Both center backs stayed deep in buildup and Yotun came into the left channel to collect the ball while Kljestan sought out long vertical lanes for the Peruvian’s passes. If Kljestan was covered, Yotun looked for Mohamed wide or for a long switch to Mueller.
As a fulcrum of attack, Yotun was impressive. However, the true star of the night was Orlando City’s aggressive counterpressing, which they threw with abandon at Toronto through the first 50 minutes of the match before starting to fade. When Rocha was replaced by Dillon Powers just before the hour mark, Toronto began to grow back into the match because the Lions lost their control of the central third of the pitch. O’Conner will not enjoy watching the spaces develop between Johnson and Powers in the second half, but it will encourage the Union, who have Borek Dockal available to glide into those gaps and create for overlapping runners.
If Orlando plays as they did on Saturday, expect a wide open and exciting US Open Cup quarterfinal matchup against the Union on Wednesday night at 7PM EST at Talen Energy Stadium.