The 2020 Major League Soccer regular season was a short-lived one. With most teams playing 2-3 matches prior to lockdown it’s tough to gauge the quality of the matches and players performances. Whether teams and players were still getting their legs under them or were teams simply polishing up their final details? Such was the case in this early 2020 season matchup between the Orlando City and Colorado Rapids.
With Orlando head coach Óscar Pareja opting to utilise a 5-3-2 formation and Robin Fraser of the Rapids in his 4-2-3-1 both teams would’ve been looking to collect all three points from their meeting. In a match where the Rapids were on the front foot from the start, it was they who came out on top 2-1. Sealing the deal with a late winner in the 90th minute from centre-back Drew Moor. This tactical analysis will explain what worked and what didn’t for both clubs in this regular-season matchup. Highlighting the offensive and defensive tactics of both clubs and ultimately, detailing how the Rapids were able to defeat Orlando prior to the nationwide lockdown.
Orlando in possession
Orlando City started this match in an interesting 5-3-2 formation. However, this quickly shifted to 3-5-2 once they were able to gain some possession in the first half. Pareja’s men regularly chose longer passing options out of their own defensive third. Typically, skipping the midfield line and playing clipped balls to one of their two frontmen, who almost always were dealing with a Rapids centre-backs tight to them.
This situation occurred consistently throughout this match. Here we see right centre-back Antônio Carlos with the ball being closed down by a Rapids left-winger. With limited options, he chooses to play a clipped ball into the centre-forward Benji Michel who’s marked tightly by a Rapids centre-back.
Michel does well to control the ball and play a pass to his midfielder making a forward run in support. In this situation, early in the match, Benji’s ability to hold the ball and provide a target early in this match worked well. But, as the game developed it became a more difficult situation for Orlando City to maintain possession.
In short, more often than not Orlando struggled to keep the ball as the game progressed. This was largely due to their inability or unwillingness to play through their midfield. Regularly, as Orlando City looked to build possession from their defensive third the ball would circulate between their three centre-backs. Cycling the ball from one side of the field to the other and often resulting in a dumped long ball. Whether this was part of the gameplan or due to Orlando’s centre-backs impatience and lack of passing options is unclear. Still, it typically resulted in Colorado closing these long balls down and winning back possession as they regularly had more numbers around it.
In the above photo, we see a similar situation to when Orlando was able to maintain possession. Carlos the right centre-back is on the ball with limited options and again chooses to play a long pass forward.
However, Colorado is prepared for the long ball and they have three players directly around where the ball is being played. With a fourth midfielder tracking backwards creating a numerical advantage around this pass. The Rapid’s players ability to read this pass and anticipate it, allows them to be in a good position to ensure they win the possession back. Not only can they fight to win the long ball but with three other players around the ball, they are able to pick up any second ball that drops after the initial challenge. This tiny detail of getting players around the ball while it travels paid off regularly. It helped the Colorado Rapids negate the effectiveness of Orlando City looking to play long in the air several times through this match.
Colorado in possession
In contrast to Pareja’s side, the Rapids regularly looked to play through their midfield line during this match. Colorado even found success in building their possession from their own defensive half. However, once getting into the Orlando City half, they struggled at times to break down their defensive line of five and midfield line of three.
In this picture, we see a great illustration of Colorado with possession in Orlando’s half. As the ball moves from side to side the Orlando backline of five shifts with it making it difficult for the Rapids players to break in behind them. In this particular sequence, we see the Colorado Rapids attempting to get in behind using the wide channel on the left. This occurs when Rapids midfielder Kellyn Acosta, a man previously linked to a move to the EFL, plays a pass and looks to run in behind the Orlando right wing-back.
However, due to their defensive structure in the 5-3-2, the Orlando right wing-back is able to run with Acosta and the midfield three are able to shift over for cover. Effectively compressing the space, the Rapids were looking to attack through and cutting out any options going forward from here.
This next step is where the Rapids and Orlando were different in their possession tactics. The Rapids in situations where they could not go forward regularly opted to play backwards to a centre-back or goalkeeper in order to maintain possession. In contrast, Orlando City regularly looked to force a difficult or untimely pass which often resulted in them giving away possession needlessly.
Key to the match
The key in this match was without a doubt Rapids defensive midfielder, former EPL and Wolverhampton player, Jack Price. In a match where both teams defended well, he was the player who consistently controlled the tempo. Picking the times to probe and play that incisive pass forward, or providing a supporting angle to help a teammate out of a high-pressure situation.
His passing ability can be seen clearly in the post-match report above. With an overall passing accuracy of 88%, it’s quite evident to see how pivotal he was in this match. His ability to get on the ball and be the link in moving it from side to side was massive for Colorado in moving the Orlando City defenders. Price was the man pulling the strings for the Colorado Rapids and did so extremely well against an Orlando team who regularly defended with numbers of 8 or more in their own half. Causing them to shift regularly and slide is what created the opportunities for Colorado to play in behind and create quality attacking chances. Still, his movement in between the lines during the later part of the match is what made the difference in the scoreline.
The picture above illustrates a great example of Price’s awareness and recognition of space. As the ball travels from the centre-back to the right-back Price see’s the open space ahead of him and moves to occupy it.
From here, Price recognises Orlando’s defensive lines have shifted to the right side of the field to close down the space ahead of the ball. Here he shows a brilliant understanding that if he goes to support the ball he will be bringing more defenders with him. Therefore he recognises the gap between the Orlando right centre-back and right wing-back and moves to sit in the available space away from the ball. Next, the ball is passed from the Rapids right-back across the field, creating an open passing lane to find Price in the space he has taken up.
Lastly, Price is able to receive the ball in a dangerous area between the two Orlando City defenders and help create a valuable attacking chance for the Rapids. In this sequence, the patience from the Colorado Rapids players on the ball combined with recognising when the Orlando defenders have shifted too far is what made this move effective. Price’s ability to recognise the correct time to step higher up the field and sit in the space between these Orlando defenders created tough situations throughout this match. Ultimately, the patience and cleverness of the Rapids players are what created their first goal. Which came from a long spell of possession and moving the ball from side to side which unbalanced the Orlando defence.
This analysis has shown that while both the Colorado Rapids and Orlando City defended well for the majority of this match, it was Colorado’s patience in possession which made the difference. Ultimately, Jack Price was able to control the match from his defensive midfield role in possession for the Rapids which allowed them to dictate the pace of the match. Their ability to consistently shift Orlando’s low blocks of defenders from quickly side-to-side unbalanced them, creating available space for attackers to take up and play through. Contrarily, Orlando’s unwillingness to play shorter passes and combine through their midfield made it difficult for them to break down the defence of Colorado. If not for a brilliant corner kick in the 90th minute from Jack Price the match would’ve ended 1-1. However, after putting on a passing clinic for the majority of this match Colorado would’ve felt justified in taking away all 3 points from this early 2020 MLS regular season match.