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The Orlando Preview

So, my actual job got in the way of this blog this week. Due to travel and actually having to be in a workplace, rather than working from home, I wasn't able to dive into Charlotte FC this week. I will warn you that I think I missed writing about this team because I have written some long posts, but this one takes the cake.

 

Before this April stretch began, I previewed this period here. In this preview, I noted this was a true test for this team, as it faced 4 good teams on the road, plus Atlanta at home. This preview didn't even factor in the Open Cup game, which ended up being another road game. To add difficulty, Charlotte had to go 120 minutes to win against Greenville before flying across country to play at altitude. I stated that I was of the belief that 3-4 points during this stretch would be a great return. The good news is that Charlotte has already reached that via a win at home against Atlanta and a draw against Colorado. Going into Orlando this weekend provides an opportunity to make this a truly great month leading into a more manageable month (with actual HOME games!).


I also stated in the April preview:

Regardless of potential roster moves, this team has a daunting April ahead of it. Charlotte will need its veterans (e.g., Ortiz, Reyna, Ríos) to step up, its stars so far (Bender, Świderski, Kahlina) to keep it up, and players like Jóźwiak to hit the ground running.

Well, I think a lot of that has happened. I thought Colorado was Ríos's best game, Ortiz has recently shown real signs of life, Świdersk (while not scoring) continues to look good and is probably a focal point of opponent game-plans, Bender has continued to play well, and Kahlina has continued to make a case as the best keeper in the league. Sure, Reyna has mostly been nonexistent and Jóźwiak, while having a good debut, still hasn't played a ton of meaningful minutes. The bottom line, though, is that this team is starting to have a little bit of depth. It's about to be tested.


The biggest news over the past week has been that Adam Armour will most likely miss the rest of the year. He is such a promising talent that it's really disappointing he won't be playing anymore this season. I was probably in the minority in my opinion about him, namely, that I didn't see him as a starter this year, but I definitely thought he could be a factor for this team. I never doubted that he is a building block of this club, so for him to miss a year of development is definitely far from ideal.


Further, there is some bug going around the team. It's already cost Jóźwiak a game and Bender was feeling the effects as well. This week Mora is in health and safety protocols, which I imagine has to mean COVID protocols. Reyna has already been ruled out. Mello and Hegardt continue to recover from injuries.


I don't know that the Reyna injury is particularly worrisome since I still have yet to see much from him, however, the Mora injury is significant. It leaves Charlotte with 2 options: play Fuchs at LB or play a back 3 with wingbacks. I don't know if Jóźwiak is healthy or in shape enough to start, but if he is, a back 3 with him as a wingback is possible. My preference would be a back 4 with Fuchs as LB. This is probably another opinion where I'm in the minority, but I have held and continue to believe Fuchs is our best option at LB. To me, the drop-off from him to Mora is so much greater than the drop-off from him to another CB. If we want to play our best XI, Fuchs at LB is part of that.

 

Orlando is an interesting team. They sit 3rd in the East with 14 points, but they have a 0 goal differential. To put that into perspective, RBNY are tied with them on 14 points and Philadelphia, who leads the East, has 17 points. Both teams have a goal differential of 7. Is Orlando good? Are they lucky? I'm trying to figure that out.

Team

Possession

Shots per game

Shots on target per game

Goals for (xG)

Goals against (xGA)

WhoScored (SofaScore) team rating

Charlotte FC

52.7%

11.3

4.7

8 (8.1)

11 (13.4)

6.54 (6.81)

Orlando City

53.1%

10.3

3.2

10 (9.4)

10 (11.9)

6.60 (6.86)

Orlando is one of the few teams that actually have fewer shots per game than Charlotte. That shots on target per game number is also atrocious. Yet, they have 2 more goals than Charlotte on the season and nothing about the xG suggests it's flukey. I'm never an advocate for taking shots just to take shots, but I do believe that creating opportunities and taking shots is hugely important. You always have to remember:

 
ORL Lineup vs. Chicago via MLS
ORL Lineup vs. Chicago via MLS, 4/9

Orlando's April has been an up and down one. It started with a trouncing by LAFC (4-2), followed by a 1-0 win against Chicago. It should be noted that Chicago got a red card in the 43rd minute and Orlando scored in the 59th. I don't know that that counts as a resounding win (although it's true that we never apologize for wins!). They followed that up with a 2-0 win on the road against Columbus. RBNY then humbled them at home with a 3-0 win. I saw a part of that game in a bar in DC and I must say, it wasn't really all that competitive of a match. Orlando looked outclassed for much of it.


Orlando actually play with the formation I've been advocating for Charlotte: a 4-2-3-1. They've been pretty consistent with their lineups too, so I wouldn't expect too much to change this weekend.


Injury Report

According to MLS, Orlando is only dealing with a couple injuries. Antônio Carlos, a center back, has already been ruled out, while Tesho Akindele, a forward, is questionable with a right thigh injury. Akindele is a rotational player for Orlando, so it would be a miss for them, but he's only started 1 game (out of 7 appearances) so far this year. Carlos is the bigger miss as he's started the first 6 games of the year. He hasn't played since the beginning of April when he was injured early in the LAFC game.


Attack

ORL Lineup vs. Columbus via MLS, 4/16
ORL Lineup vs. Columbus via MLS, 4/16

I always forget that Alexandre Pato is still playing. I don't think it can be argued that the former Milan wunderkind hasn't had the career people expected when he first broke onto the scene way back in 2007. It's also amazing that he's still only 32; it's not like he couldn't have a couple more productive seasons. However, he's a player who hasn't really been relevant for a long time. Injuries have certainly--and unfortunately--played a big part in his career and he hasn't been in double digits for goals since 2015.


His last two years in Milan were largely wasted, as he only appeared in a total of 15 matches. He spent a few decently productive years back in Brazil for Cointhians and then São Paulo. During this time in Brazil he scored 9 goals with 4 assists for Corinthians in 30 appearances and 19 goals with 9 assists in 62 appearances for São Paulo. He attempted to break back into Europe with Chelsea in 2015-16 and Villarreal in 2016-17. Neither years were successful, as he only made two appearances for Chelsea and 14 for Villarreal. He scored 3 goals in this time. He then moved to China for two years, where he did score 30 goals, but the league is noted more for high salaries than high levels of competition. He retuned to São Paulo in 2019 but was largely ineffective, only scoring 5 times in 20 appearances. After agreeing to terminate his contract with the Brazilian squad, he joined Orlando where injuries have again impacted him. Over the last two years he's only made 11 appearances, 7 of which have come this year. He has already scored two and assisted two this year, so he still remains an attacking threat. At this point in his career, I think Pato's name far outweighs his actual contributions. Maybe that changes with a healthy year this season, but until that happens, I wouldn't be overly concerned.


ORL vs. RBNY via MLS, 4/24
ORL vs. RBNY via MLS, 4/24

I think a lot of people might actually be surprised to know that Pato isn't one of Orlando's DPs. Their DPs are all attackers, though, and should absolutely be schemed for. They include Ercan Kara, Mauricio Pereyra, and Facundo Torres. Kara and Pereyra have both played in all 9 of Orlando's matches, while Torres has appeared in 8.


Kara is a huge target at 6'4" and 194 lbs. The Austrian international is new to MLS having spent his previous 3 seasons in the Austrian Bundesliga with Rapid Wien. He has 2 goals and 2 assists so far and I expect that to increase.


Kara is a goalscorer. Before joining Rapid, he played for FC Mauerwerk, another team in Austria. He played for Mauerwerk for 3 seasons. In the first, they were in the 4th division of Austrian soccer, while the last 2 years were in the 3rd division. He scored 83 goals in 87 appearances. I'm going to say that again: 83 goals in 87 appearances. I don't care what the league is or what the division, at almost a goal per appearance, color me impressed. That rate obviously hasn't stayed once he moved to Rapid or Orlando, but there's no doubt that he carries serious goalscoring threat.

Pereyra heatmap via SofaScore
Pereyra heatmap via SofaScore

Pereyra joined Orlando from the Russian Premier League, where he played for Krasnodar. The Uruguayan is just a good player who has carried that over to Orlando over the past 4 years. He's actually a little below his averages in passing this season at 87.5% for short passes, 78.5% for medium, and 56.5% for long. He's a career 88% for short, 84.6% for medium, and 63.8% for long passes. Last year was a really good year for him as he appeared in 29 games for Orlando, chipping in a goal along with 7 assists. Pereyra has a bit of a bias towards the left of the field this year, but he's going to pop up all over. I haven't included them, but his heatmaps going back to his Russian days have him all over the pitch. It also appears that he is their primary corner taker, regardless of side. He's played as the #10 for Orlando all year.

Torres heatmap via SofaScore
Torres heatmap via SofaScore

Finally, Torres rounds out the attacking DPs. The Uruguayan is in his first season in MLS, coming over from the Uruguayan team Peñarol. He's young at 21, but really talented. FBref doesn't keep stats for the Uruguayan Primera División, but his MLS start has been really good. He already has a goal and 2 assists to his name. Although a left midfielder/winger in name, he pops up all over the place. His heatmap has him with a left-side bias, but he's popping up centrally and even on the right wing quite a bit. He's also someone who likes to take defenders on (22 attempts, 7 successful dribbles, 12 players dribbled past).


The aforementioned Akindele, Benji Michel, Matheus Aiás Aiás, Silvester van der Water, and Jack Lynn round out the listed forwards. Again, Akindele is questionable. His best year as a pro came in Orlando's expansion year (2019), when he scored 10 goals in 28 appearances. He's never been particularly close to double digit goals before or after that. His previous high was 7 in his first year with Dallas way back in 2014. He averages about 4 goals per year (40 career goals in 217 appearances over a 9 year career), although that number is really inflated by that one 10 goal year. Michel is a 4 year pro who has 15 goals in 81 appearances. He had 5 goals his first 2 years, 4 last season, and 1 so far this year. Aiás, van der Water, and Lynn are largely unproven. Van der Water had 3 goals last year in 27 appearances (12 starts). Aiás has 1 goal in 6 career appearances over the past 2 seasons. Lynn only has 2 career minutes in MLS. While on the surface Akindele isn't a huge threat, he does offer the most attacking experience off the bench. Without him, it's really just Michel.


Midfield

Cesár Araujo is Orlando's man in the midfield so far, having started all 9 of their matches. Another young Uruguayan who has come over the Primera División in Uruguay, Araujo has been a nailed on starter since he was 18. He appeared in 29 matches for Wanderers in 2020 and 2021. He's now made all 9 starts of Orlando's season--the man will not be kept out. If there is one weakness, it might be his discipline. He already has 4 yellow cards and is at risk of suspension. I doubt it would really effect his mentality in the game, but who knows.

Araujo heatmap via SofaScore
Araujo heatmap via SofaScore

Araujo isn't a goal scorer or assist maker. He's literally never had one of either in his career. What he is, is a defensive monster. It's obviously early in his MLS career, but he's in the 93rd percentile for pass completion, the 88th percentile for blocks, the 85th percentile for clearances, and the 77th percentile for pressures. His heatmap backs this up. He's not joining the attack; he's putting his effort into defense.


He has the profile of a guy who just shields his team. He's at 92.4% for short passing, 90.6% for medium passing, and 83.7% (!!!!) for long passing. He has only attempted 49 long passes on the season, but has completed 41. I mean, it's not a ton of attempts, but also it's a ridiculous completion percentage. Coupled with his defensive workrate, I don't think you have to worry about his lack of offensive contribution. That's not his job, he knows it, and takes pride in doing the dirty work.


The other likely starter is Júnior de Almeida Júnior. Or is it Ocimar de Almeida Júnior? Or is it Júnior Urso? However, you see his name, he's started 7 of the 9 games this year and played in all 9. He will join the attack and is off to a red-hot start. He already has 2 goals on the year with 1 assist (3 if you use MLS's stats). He only had 4 goals and an assist last year over the course of 30 appearances.


He's a player who's been around the world, including time in China, Brazil and the MLS (past 3 years). Aside from his first season in China, where he had 9 goals, Júnior Urso has never had more than 4 goals in a season. It's a strong start to this year for the 33-year-old and can probably be attributed to Araujo's role. With Araujo freeing him up from defensive duties, Júnior Urso has been able to focus on the attack. While he may start in that double pivot, he is drifting out to the right often.

Méndez heatmap via SofaScore, 2021
Méndez heatmap via SofaScore, 2021

If it's not Júnior Urso joining Araujo in the double pivot, it'll probably be Jhegson Méndez. The Ecuadorian is another defensive-first midfielder. He's only started 2 games, but has played in a total of 6. He only has 1 goal in his 4 year MLS career and has never registered an assist. In fact, he only has 5 career goals spanning back to his time at Indepenediente in the Ecuadorian Serie A. Because he hasn't played a ton this year, I have his 2021 heatmap to the right. It's very similar to Araujo's, which explains why they are more consistently pairing Júnior Urso with Araujo. In general, he's a nice piece to have if you are playing a more attack-oriented side. With Charlotte's attacking struggles, I wouldn't expect him to start


Other options in the midfield include Andrés Perea, Joseph DeZart, and Wilfredo Rivera. We will probably not see Rivera, as he has never appeared in a game for Orlando. DeZart has yet to appear for Orlando this season, but he did play in 17 games last season (starting 7). He's never had a goal or assist in 28 career appearances. Perea has appeared in 5 games this year, but only started once. He has 2 career goals, both from last season. He had an assist last year and 2 in 2020.


It's clear that Orlando doesn't expect much from its midfielders when it comes to the attack (with the exception of Júnior Urso). Technically, Pereyra and Torres are listed as midfielders, but I included them in the attack because their roles reflect that (a #10 and wide midfielder/winger, respectively).


Defense

As previously mentioned, one of the preferred CBs, Carlos, is out injured. Their starter for the first 6 games, he has been replaced by Rodrigo Schlegel (4 starts and 8 appearances). Robin Jansson has been their other primary CB, having started 8 games on the season. João Moutinho has been the starter all year at left back (9 starts), while Kyle Smith (5 appearances, 1 start) and Ruan Gregório Teixeira (8 starts) have played at right back. Michael Halliday got into 6 games last year, but has yet to play this season. Thomas Williams has a total of 46 minutes played this year over 2 appearances. Finally, Alexander Freeman has yet to make his debut for the team.


João Moutinho, not to be confused with his more famous namesake who plays for Wolves in the Premier League, is young, but talented. At 24, he already has 67 career appearances, including 20 last year for Orlando. He's still yet to put up counting stats with only 2 goals and 5 assists for his career, but he oozes potential. He's in the 99th percentile for passes attempted. Also, one of his primary player comparisons on FBref is our very own Jaylin Lindsey. He's definitely more attack-minded, but he's played all 90 minutes in each game for Orlando this season. He definitely has the stamina to get up and down the pitch.


Ruan is the more likely of the two right backs to start. He's winger playing right back; in fact, he's horrible defensively. He's in the 15th percentile for pressures, the 1st percentile (!) for tackles, the 3rd percentile for interceptions, 1st percentile for blocks, 23rd percentile for clearances, and 14th percentile for aerials won. Yeah, he's the definition of a defensive liability.


The reason he makes the team, though, is because he can add a lot to the attack. He's in the 90th percentile for xA amongst fullbacks, the 90th percentile for touches in the attacking area and progressive passes received, and the 86th percentile for progressive carriers. Again, Araujo's defensive ability probably allows this to happen. Ruan's ability to get forward also allows Pato to drift inside. Coupled with Júnior Urso's tendency to drift out wide, you have a lot of attacking ability down the right side. Whatever the complexion of the left defensive side for Charlotte, they are going to be severely tested.


In the center of defense, I would expect Schlegel and Jansson to be the pairing. Jansson is a threat to get a goal from defense. He had 3 goals last year for Orlando and at 6'1" is a threat from set pieces.

Jansson percentiles via FBref
Jansson percentiles via FBref

Jansson's strength lies more in his ability as a distributor than defender. Schlegel is basically the exact opposite. Look at the percentiles to the left. I mean is Jansson actually a defender? That's a lot of minutes to basically be horrible at a defender's primary responsibility, namely, defending. Meanwhile, Schlegel seems to be a wall at the back, but couldn't pass a ball into the ocean from the beach. There's a lot to be said about a CB pairing that balances strengths, but this seems a bit extreme.

Schlegel percentiles via FBref
Schlegel percentiles via FBref

All in all, based on these profiles, Orlando starts an attack-minded fullback, a bad defensive center back, a good defensive center back who is a terrible passer, and a winger pretending to be a fullback as their backline. There is opportunity here. I would close off Jansson's ability to distribute and make Schlegel the primary passer out of the back. It doesn't appear he can do that job. Further, if Jóźwiak is actually able to play this game, look out. He has the exact profile to destroy a player like Ruan all day. If Jóźwiak can't play, or is a sub, I would love for Świderski to drift out to that side. He also has the ability to give Ruan all sorts of fits.


Goalkeeping

Orlando has had two goalkeepers start so far this year in the league. Pedro Gallese is clearly the number one, having started and played in 8 games. Mason Stajduhar started the other game (Portland on 3/27).


Gallese is pretty average in goal, at best. He allowed 30 goals in 22 appearances last year on a 29.9 PSxG. For his career, he allows 1.49 goals per 90 minutes. This includes a year (2016-17) when he allowed 43 goals in 23 appearances and another year (2018-19) when he allowed 31 goals in 13 appearances. Now, goals allowed is not just a reflection of a goalkeepers ability, but I still don't want to see that from my goalkeeper. This year he has allowed 9 goals on a 7.9 PSxG (good for a -1.1 PSxG+/-). Bottom line is Gallese just allows goals and has his whole career.


I'm not quite sure how he is in the 89th percentile of clean sheet percentage, but aside from that, he's pretty average to below-average in everything. The only exception is in save percentage on penalty kicks, where he is in the 73rd percentile. He's not really a passer either, as he launches 47% of his passes, so they're not asking him to play it out from the back.


Honestly, there's literally nothing in his profile that says he's even an average goalkeeper. If I'm an Orlando fan, I am seriously asking why they keep using him. Maybe I'm missing something from just a statistical profile, but if I am, I'd be surprised.


Conclusion

Orlando is a confusing team. They have some impressive players (e.g., Kara, Araujo, Torres), play defenders who can't defend (Jansson, Ruan), and a goalkeeper who can't stop shots. They have a famous attacker who can't stay healthy and an unknown striker who scores loads of goals. Charlotte is an American mecca for Polish players, while Orlando is collecting Uruguayans. They've got 14 points on the season but a 0 goal differential. I can not say whether this is a good or bad team with any ounce of confidence.


What I can say is that Charlotte can get at this defense. If there was ever a time for Jóźwiak to start, it's this game. Put him up top with Świderski and profit. I would seriously consider Ortiz and Gaines for a starting XI this game too. In the midfield, we need some steel. I've seen nothing from Bronico to drop him, but honestly Jones might be a good addition, especially if we play Fuchs at LB. I'm not usually a fan of a back 3, but this game might make sense. Basically, I see in Orlando a team that can't defend but can score. Charlotte is kind of a team that can defend but can't score. Something has to give and hopefully it breaks in favor of Charlotte.


This is not how a professional manager thinks, but I feel like Charlotte are playing with house money right now. Let's attack Orlando. Give me a front three of Jóźwiak, Świderski, and Bender, a midfield of Alcívar, Franco, and Bronico, and a backline of Fuchs, Makoun, Corujo, and Lindsey. Let's take this game to them. They definitely have the ability to score, but I'd rather lose to them scoring mulitple goals than us not being able to score against a terrible backline.


Glass is all the way full.


Prediction: Orlando 1 - Charlotte 3



 

Right as I went to post this preview, I saw that Charlotte signed Colorado forward Andre Shinyashiki. That's exciting, but not considered in this write-up. I've already spent too much time on this, and he isn't going to play on Saturday.










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