Nashville SC take on Orlando City… again. It’s the second meeting in eight days between the two clubs, after the Boys in Gold fell 3-1 to the Lions last Wednesday. To get the latest on Orlando, we caught up with Julia Poe, who covers Orlando City and Orlando Pride for the Orlando Sentinal. Make sure to follow her coverage here.
Ben Wright: Orlando weren’t necessarily a favorite going into the MLS is Back Tournament, but after finishing second, it seems like that form has kept up. What changes has Oscar Pareja implemented into the field that have lead to such a drastic turnaround?
Julia Poe: There are a lot of factors going right for Pareja and for Orlando City. First off, some of the acquisitions made by the club in the last two years only started to pay off at their full potential this year.
Nani is visibly refreshed after enjoying his first MLS offseason and preseason. Designated player Mauricio Pereyra is a game-changer, but he never got up to full speed after his mid-season arrival last August. And players like Pedro Gallese and Antonio Carlos have elevated the Lions’ defense.
So Pareja came in with a lot of quality pieces already in place. From there, he’s created a really effective system of attack grounded in setting a high line of pressure, antagonizing back lines and dominating possession.
The intangible factor is the way Pareja galvanized each individual player inside this system. His mantra for this year is to make Orlando City the “protagonist” of every game. Every single player on his roster bought into that idea, and the way he promotes players’ individuality has been effective in getting the best out of his roster.
BW: Nashville fans will remember Daryl Dike’s performance against them, and he kept up that form in Atlanta. He was a highly rated prospect in the draft, but he seems to have really taken to MLS. What makes him work so well in Orlando, and could he be the answer to their issues at forward?
JP: Dike is doing a lot of the little things right. He stays active when asked to hold that line of high pressure. Everyone has seen the power of his shot, which lets him get the ball out of his feet really quickly.
The test for Dike came against Atlanta, when defenses had enough film on him to know how to double team and clog him up in the box. With multiple defenders sagging on him, he kept his calm to turn and feed his wingers. That hold-up play looked surprisingly advanced for his third professional start.
A big part of his success also comes from the quality of the players who are setting him up and working with him. The system Pareja set up also really thrives off a scenario where two wingers can feed into a pure No. 9, which is what the Lions can do when they put Dike up top and rotate any of their wingers around him. Nani and Pereyra offer some of the highest quality service you can ask for in this league.
He’s going to see some serious competition for the starting role whenever new striker signing Matheus Aiás is able to arrive in Orlando. But until then, Dike has been dynamic filling that role.
BW: João Moutinho and Ruan have huge roles in the attack. Is there a worry that teams will exploit the space behind them, or has Orlando handled the counter well?
JP: So far, handling the counter has been a strong suit for Orlando City. The Lions excelled with full-team defending, particularly in the MLS is Back tournament. It’s tough to move through the midfield against them due to the effectiveness of defensive midfielders like Uri Rosell, Júnior Urso and Sebas Méndez, and the speed of both Ruan and Moutinho makes it difficult to burn them up the flanks.
With Moutinho, the big question is whether or not he’ll even play. He left the Atlanta game in a lot of pain with what appeared to be a groin injury. He was back on his feet by the time the team left on their charter flight that night, and Pareja said he was recovering and “normal” again on Monday.
But Moutinho has struggled mightily with injuries, and a combination of hamstring, quad and calf injuries kept him off the pitch for most of the latter half of 2019. It’s likely Pareja will rest him for Nashville and maybe even the Atlanta rematch, which means Canadian Kamal Miller will step up to fill the role.
Thanks to Julia for her time and expertise. Make sure to follow her for the latest Orlando soccer news @jpoe24601.