Orlando City dropped its third straight match in a 3-1 result at the Philadelphia Union on Sunday night. Here are the top takeaways from the setback:
Orlando City’s defense was its strongest at the season’s start. The Lions began the year with a streak of shutouts, allowing only two goals in the first six matches.
But that changed in the last month. Orlando City allowed 12 goals in the past four games despite having mostly full-force availability from preferred starters such as Ruan, Antonio Carlos and Pedro Gallese. Three of those matches resulted in a loss.
“We have to reorganize,” coach Oscar Pareja said. “It’s difficult for us to absorb that many goals knowing it’s somewhere we were efficient all year. ... We cannot just take everything and throw it in the trash can.”
Pareja made defensive adjustments ahead of Sunday’s match, bringing his team out in a five-back that allowed three centerbacks to hold down the defense while wingbacks Kyle Smith and Ruan prowled the flanks.
Despite the loss, Pareja said he was happy with the shape the team held in this five-back structure, which he might continue to utilize.
With Carlos and Robin Jansson both suspended for yellow and red cards, however, the Lions will be hard-pressed for defensive flexibility in upcoming games.
Attackers lack scoring finish
One unexpected area where the defense continues to be consistent is on the attack. Defenders scored all three of the Lions’ most recent goals.
The backline provided 50% of goal production in the last nine games since the start of August. Carlos, Ruan and Jansson produced five of the team’s 10 goals in that span.
Defender goal-scoring never has been a crux of Pareja’s system. While improvement in set-piece scenarios — when the Lions typically target towering centerbacks like Jansson and Carlos — is a good sign for the Lions, defenders aren’t designed to be reliable scoring options for this team.
Daryl Dike’s return hasn’t carried the offensive boost expected as the striker continues to struggle with injury recovery from unspecified tendinitis.
When captain Nani isn’t on the pitch, the Lions’ attack is struggling to net goals. The team must break this pattern in the next nine games to carry success into the postseason.
Cards riddle roster
Three Orlando City players will be suspended from their next match against the New England Revolution after accruing a fifth yellow card against Philadelphia — Júnior Urso, Mauricio Pereyra and Jansson. Centerback Carlos will also be suspended due to a red card earned in the match.
The team will regain starters Nani and Andrés Perea from their previous red-card suspensions for the match. But the new absences reflect a recent pattern of on-field disciplinary issues for the Lions.
The team picked up six yellow cards against Philadelphia and three red cards in the last two games, sidelining stars during a key run of the season.
“[We] just need to focus on the mission,” striker Tesho Akindele said. “We’re trying to first make the playoffs and then win MLS Cup. ... [Players] know that they’ve made a mistake and I don’t expect that it would happen again. I’m not too worried about that in the long term.”
Losing skid narrows playoff margin
Orlando City fell to fourth overall in the Eastern Conference table following its loss Sunday.
The Lions seemed a lock for the postseason since their unbeaten streak to start the season. But the conference standings are tight and Orlando City is now only four points away from dropping out of playoff contention.
While the New England Revolution have all but run away with the Supporters’ Shield and Eastern Conference title, the next nine spots in the conference table are separated by just 10 points.
The Lions sit right in the middle of that stretch. A three-point swing could pull the team back up into second place or drop the team into the hot seat as the last club into the playoffs.
Facing top-ranked New England this weekend creates a daunting test for the team to snap out of its losing streak.