The MLS is Back Tournament is set to resume play coming in just a few short weeks. Something football fans and MLS teams alike will relish being a part of again. Definitely, for both Orlando City and Inter Miami, this is a time they’ve anxiously awaited in order to return to football, especially considering that between the two clubs having played two matches apiece this season, they have a combined record of 0 wins 1 tie and 3 losses. The lacklustre start to the season puts them in the hot seat, so they’ll want to start off on the front foot as football resumes.
Therefore, there are big expectations for this first round match-up of the MLS is Back Tournament between Orlando City and Inter Miami set for kick-off at 5 pm PST on July 8th. For Oscar Pareja and his City boys, they will be likely looking to build off their match versus Colorado after conceding a late winner from a corner kick to go down 2-1. And for Inter Miami, they’re looking for their first MLS franchise win coming off two decent performances that ultimately left them taking 0 points away, leaving a sour taste in newly appointed head coach Diego Alonso’ mouth. This tactical analysis highlights the strengths, weaknesses and likely gameplans for each of these two clubs.
Inter Miami is in an interesting team. With only two full MLS matches under their belt and zero points, Diego Alonso will be looking to make a statement. Inter Miami so far has shown a desire to play quality football. Based on the results from their first two matches, it is expected they will utilise the tactics of Alonso’s 5-4-1, the formation in which they’ve experienced the most success. Defensively, Miami has been organised well and certainly switching to the back five has played a large role in that. The key will be discipline in Miami’s three centre backs when they are being hit on the counterattack. That’s an area they struggled with against DC United earlier this year when Roman Torres was caught handling a ball due to a misjudged tackle resulting in a 53rd-minute red card. While a red card is never ideal, this one was especially painful, leading to a disallowed goal for Miami and eventually leading to their undoing as they played the next 37 minutes down a man. Still, their ability to utilise wing-backs in possession and push numbers forward is what yielded their only goal of the season thus far. It’s certainly an area Alonso will have assessed in training in preparation for the tournament.
In the photo above, we see the expected lineup and how Alonso will look to play both in and out of possession. In their last match before the break, Miami looked to drop USMNT holding midfielder Will Trapp deep and push both wing-backs higher up the pitch. This created space for the two outside centre backs to push a bit wider and create a diamond between them Trapp and the centre-back, Torres. Ideally, this allowed the side to push more numbers higher up the pitch while creating large pockets for Trapp to drop and receive the ball, putting him on the ball regularly and, therefore, requiring him to dictate the game for Miami in possession.
Still, as noted with the above graphic Miami have been dangerous going forward. With an average Xg of 1.5 between the two matches they’ve played, it can be argued they should at least have taken some points away. Still, it is quite clear the most dangerous side for them going forward has been the right as in both matches it produced the highest xG rating when compared to attacks down the middle and left side of the pitch. A large contributor to this statistic is attacking midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro who, prior to coming to Miami, was linked with a move to AC Milan of the Serie A. He’s scored the only goal for Inter thus far and has had an average xG of 0.5 in each of Miami’s matches.
Undoubtedly, the key players for Miami include Pizarro, Trapp, veteran goalkeeper Luis Robles and 19-year-old centre forward Robbie Robinson. Pizarro has shown his attacking quality already this year having the highest xG on the team thus far. Trapp is the anchor in the middle. Alonso certainly hopes Trapp will be a key in linking the team in possession while providing defensive cover in the centre of the field. Robles, the veteran goalkeeper with 72 clean sheets in his career, provides experience that goes beyond the pitch. And lastly, Robinson, the young standout from Clemson University in the USA who won the MAC Hermann trophy last year, is a player Miami will be hoping continues his scoring form from his collegiate years. Ultimately, these four players will shoulder the majority of the pressure and expectations as they make up the spine of this Miami team.
Under head coach Pareja, Orlando City is a team that looks to play through the opposition. Recently, Orlando has utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation defensively. Allowing just two goals in two matches, Pareja’s group show they are organized and tough to break down. Depending on the personnel, Orlando has switched between defending in a block of five defenders and 3 midfielders as well as two lines of four. However, this shape evolves to a 3-5-2 once in possession.
Once in possession, Orlando will routinely push their right-back higher up the pitch, asking the two centre-backs to operate as if they are playing in a three-back system. As this happens, their left-back steps a bit higher and comes inside to finish the back three shape. The left-winger typically Benji Michel stays isolated on the left side creating dangerous 1v1 situations, while the right-winger Chris Mueller steps higher to join the centre forward. This leaves the centre attacking midfielder, Mauricio Pereyra, ample space to operate in a free-roaming classic number 10 role.
On the offensive side of the field, Orlando is a bit more balanced than Miami. Interestingly, between their two matches this year, they’ve attacked down both wide channels the most when compared to down the middle of the pitch with their lone goal coming from Mueller on the right-wing against Colorado.
However, It is important to note some key players for Orlando weren’t fit to play in these early 2020 matches. For instance, Orlando’s 2019 leading goal scorer with 12 was Luis Nani, the former Man United and Sporting Portugal player, as well as former Norwich City of the EPL youth player Dom Dwyer who netted seven himself. As a result, Pareja will be expecting those two back and the goal drought is likely to end. Other key players for Orlando would have to be left-back João Moutinho and holding midfielder Sebastian Méndez who are both vital in Orlando’s building of possession from their defensive third.
This tactical preview has shown the attacking and defensive structures for both Inter Miami and Orlando City. This analysis has highlighted the styles of play as well as the areas in which they excel. Attacking wise, both teams have struggled to find the goal this year. However, for Orlando, gaining players like Dwyer and Nani back makes them very dangerous during the MLS is Back Tournament. Ultimately, in this matchup, the team who is able to finish off quality attacking chances will likely take points from the other, meaning whoever can capitalise in the box will likely come out with three points from this match between Orlando City and Inter Miami on July 5th at 5pm PT.