MLS 2020: New York Red Bulls vs Orlando City SC– tactical analysis

The MLS is in the home stretch of its 2020 Regular Season campaign as teams focus on qualifying for the playoffs and securing a positive seed in the postseason tournament. With an expanded postseason format, teams will be looking to qualify and compete for MLS’s biggest prize.

Orlando City SC are having the best year in their club’s short history. As they currently sit near the top of the Eastern Conference, Orlando and first year Head Coach Oscar Pareja are pushing to secure home field advantage in the playoffs for the first time in club history.

New York Red Bulls also find themselves in playoff contention after an up and down start to the year that led to a coaching change, resulting in their hiring of Gerhard Struber, previously of Barnsley FC. Currently sitting right in the middle of the playoff race, every match brings opportunity to qualify for the postseason.

This tactical analysis will analyze both the tactics of New York Red Bull and the tactics of Orlando City SC in this match. In addition, this analysis will take a look at which tactics played a key role in this match finishing with a one-all scoreline featuring a goal from the penalty spot from ex- Manchester United star Nani and a dramatic late equalizer from Brian White in added time.

Lineups and formations


Each side lined up in almost identical 4-2-3-1’s which has quickly become the most prominent formation in the MLS.  Each side was presented with the opportunity to make some changes in an effort to rotate the squad after each having a midweek game leading up to this match. In addition, each side were without key players who were kept out after returning from national team duty in order to follow COVID-19 quarantine protocols.

New York opted to start the same back four as their previous match in Jason Pendant, Amro Tarek, Tim Parker and Kyle Duncan. In the midfield they chose to insert Sean Davis in place of Dru Yearwood. In addition, their frontline saw the return of Daniel Royer for Jared Stroud, as well as saw the inclusion of young phenom Caden Clark who replaced Brian White in the starting lineup.

The visitors opted to remain with the same lineup from their midweek matchup with Toronto FC that saw each side share a point. That lineup included Brian Rowe in goal, along with Kamal Miller, Robin Janssen, Antonio Carlos and Ruan on the backline. In the midfield, Orlando once again went with the pairing of Junior Urso and Joseph Dezart. Just in front of those two, Orlando featured Chris Muller, Andres Perea and Nani, while Rookie of the Year contender Daryl Dike started in the lone forward spot.

Red Bulls Pressing Structure

The Red Bulls syndicate of teams throughout the world have become renowned for their organized and high intensity pressing structures, and the New York side are no exception. Despite their change in manager, this pressing style has continued through interim manager Bradley Carnell and will no doubt continue with Struber who will take over the team upon receiving his United States work visa.

Through their organized system of pressing, Red Bull are not only able to win the ball back in dangerous areas to launch their own attacks, they are also often able to impart their will on the game and cause discomfort for possession based sides like Orlando City.

Red Bull are able to press effectively out of their 4-2-3-1 shape that involves high work rate and tactical acumen from their wingers and central midfielders. In this match, New York had a clear focus on applying pressure when the ball was possessed by the Orlando City outside backs. This was most often done by their wingers, Royer and Clark, as they were typically closest to the ball and therefore, able to apply pressure quickly. By doing so, they often forced the ball to either be played backwards to the Orlando City center backs, or to be played forward into areas where the Red Bull midfielders and defenders had positioned themselves to be able to win the ball. While there was a heavy emphasis on applying pressure to the outside backs in possession, New York was quite content to let the Orlando City center backs have the ball with little to no pressure. This was largely because part of the Red Bull pressing structure was to have both Royer and Clark slide inside defensively to clog passing lanes further up the field. This action opens up the Orlando City outside backs to receive the ball, which is the pressing cue for New York to apply pressure. Some good examples of this pressing shape are shown below.

Red Bulls pressing shape asks the front four players to move compactly and force the ball to be played wide

The New York midfielders engage in their press by covering passing lanes as well as marking Orlando City midfielders

Since New York was able to effectively “bait” Orlando City into playing the ball into these wide areas, New York was able to manipulate and predict the passing options for the Orlando outside backs which resulted in New York being able to win the ball consistently and quickly off of Orlando City, which allowed them to dominate possession (59%.)

As the game progressed, Orlando became more and more cautious in playing the ball into these wide areas and instead looked for more direct options further up the field, which is a direct contrast to their typical possession based style. Since Orlando City was not necessarily set up to play this way, it no doubt caused discomfort and turnovers in possession. This resulted in New York regaining possession at a consistent rate allowing them to impart their style of play on the match. In fact, New York’s Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) was calculated at 6.1 passes on both halves, meaning that New York was able to regain possession every 6.1 Orlando City passes. This graph is shown below.


This pressing structure also allowed New York to win the ball back numerous times in their offensive half, which allowed them to quickly launch attacks to the goal. A diagram of New York’s defensive recoveries is shown below.

New York Red Bulls’ ball recovery locations in this match with Orlando City

The execution of their pressing scheme no doubt had a large impact on the match as it enabled New York to control possession throughout. In addition, by winning the ball back consistently in their attacking half, it allowed New York to use their pacy and talented attackers to attack the space that Orlando City had vacated while in possession of the ball.


Orlando City’s use of Ruan and Muller in Possession

Under Pareja, Orlando City have quickly adopted his playing style that he has employed at FC Dallas, Colorado Rapids and Tijuana previously. Pareja almost exclusively employs a 4-2-3-1 formation as discussed previously, and implores his sides to attempt to keep possession and counterpress in order to wear down opponents. This is not to say that Pareja is without tactical nuance, as we will discuss in this section.

In this match, Pareja was able to effectively manipulate the right side of his lineup in order to create attacks going forward using both Ruan and Muller’s respective qualities. While in possession, Orlando molded into a 3-5-2 in order to progress the ball forward and create opportunities. However, instead of dropping a holding midfielder in between wide spreading center backs to create a back three, as has become commonplace in today’s game, Pareja shifted his backline and asked Ruan (right outside back) to push higher up the field to allow Muller (right winger) the opportunity to shift inside and occupy half spaces, as well as create a numerical overload (4v3) for his side. A few examples of this can be seen below.

Ruan moves up field in the wide area as Muller frees himself from the defender to receive the ball in the half space
Muller moves inside to create an overload as Ruan stays high and wide to provide width to the Orlando City attack
This diagram shows the average position of Ruan (#2) and Muller (#9) throughout the match

As mentioned, this created  numerical overloads in the center of the field and the chance for Orlando to occupy half spaces in the attacking third. In addition, it offered a solution to the previously discussed Red Bull pressing structure. By shifting his backline, Pareja hoped that the change in shape would confuse the Red Bull press and allow Orlando different ways to play out of the back. By shifting Ruan higher up the field, it forced the New York left winger, Royer in this case, to either follow Ruan and allow space centrally, or stay higher up the field and allow Orlando to potentially advance the ball through Ruan. In addition, by shifting the left back centrally, it caused confusion for the New York youngster Clark in who and when to press as the left back was in a more central position than is typical for modern outside backs.

Furthermore, it allowed Muller to offer support inside and created passing lanes in central areas. This additional central player caused confusion for Red Bull as they were a man down in the central midfield and struggled at times to effectively cover passing lanes. It also allowed for support to Orlando’s lone striker Dike in the center of the field.

This diagram shows the attacking prowess of Orlando City on the right flank and central part of the field in this match against New York Red Bulls

As shown above, this tactical nuance from Pareja paid dividends throughout the match for Orlando. As you can see, the majority of their dangerous attacks came from either the right side or central areas. This is no coincidence as the manipulation of Ruan and Muller’s attacking shape allowed for the ball to be progressed on the right side through Ruan as well as created a numerical advantage in the center of the field which typically yields attacking opportunities.

Differences in Attacking Philosophies

While each side has similar principles of play including conterpressing, pressing high up the field and attempting to dominate possession. The two sides had very different strategies in creating attacking opportunities in this match. This part of the tactical analysis will look at how each side went about creating opportunities and analyze their effectiveness.

For both sides, possession plays a key part in their attacking philosophies. As discussed, under Pareja Orlando City look to play out from the back and build the ball through the thirds of the field to create attacking opportunities. This typically features a large portion of possession in their own defensive third and middle third of the field as they circulate the ball from side to side before breaking into the final third and attacking with speed and precision and this match was no exception. As mentioned, the slight adjustment of their attacking shape allowed them to create opportunities to attack, albeit less frequently than they would have liked. This can be directly attributed to Red Bull’s execution of their pressing scheme. Nevertheless, Orlando City was still able to apply their style of attack in order to create opportunities in this match. The diagram below shows the passing patterns and location of Orlando City’s attack against Red Bull.

The passing patterns and locations of Orlando City in this match against New York Red Bulls

As you can see, Orlando City’s attacking style was prevalent again in this match as they were able to possess the ball most often in their defensive and middle thirds of the field.

In almost direct contrast, New York opted to play and possess almost exclusively in the middle and attacking thirds of the field. This is somewhat unique for Red Bull and can possibly be attributed to missing some players due to national team duty, or even their interim manager. New York did not play out of the back often, instead opting to overload one side and play a more direct pass to that side and then try to play out of that side with their numerical overload and attack. Below is the Red Bull diagram showing passing patterns and locations in their attack.

The passing patterns and locations for New York Red Bulls in this match against Orlando City

As you can see from the diagrams above, the attacking philosophies in this match presented themselves in fascinating contrast. It seemed at times to be an argument of “quantity or quality” between the two managers. Red Bull opted to try and keep the ball as close to their attacking half as possible when in possession in hopes that the more often the ball was in these areas, the more opportunities they would be presented with to attack. In contrast, Orlando chose to try and possess the ball through the thirds in an attempt to break down their opposition and then attack in hopes that those attacks, although fewer would be more dangerous.

In addition, there is a big difference in “possessions reaching opponents half” and “passes into the final third” that highlight the differences between the strategies of each side. New York was able to reach the Orlando City half more often in possession, as well as attempt more passes into the final third. These metrics are shown below.

The amount of possession reaching the opponents half for this match between New York Red Bulls and Orlando City
The amount of passes into the final third in this match between New York Red Bulls and Orlando City

Obviously, with a 1-1 final scoreline, neither side can claim that their respective strategy ultimately worked best in this match. However, Orlando City accumulated a slight edge in xG with 1.69 xG, compared to New York’s accumulation of 1.44 xG.



To conclude this tactical analysis, both sides presented tactics that although different, were effective for their respective gameplans in this match. While New York were able to control possession as well as effectively put the ball into parts of the field that favored them, Orlando City will be pleased in their ability to create attacking opportunities based out of the possession they did have, while still following Pareja’s game model.

With Toronto FC defeating Atlanta United on Sunday night, Orlando have effectively punched their ticket into the playoffs and will continue to push for home field advantage. Red Bull on the other hand still find themselves in the thick of the playoff race and will need to continue to impart their will on their opponents as they look to climb in the standings in the last few weeks of the MLS Regular Season.