Tenacity and aggression were key for Orlando City SC in Sunday’s season opener against Real Salt Lake. From the outset, Orlando City was physical and aggressive in attacking the goal. What they weren’t was overly tactical. It was abundantly clear on Sunday that without Kaka, Orlando City lack creativity.
City picked up where they left off last year in terms of physicality and tenacity. Consistently bodying up against the RSL attack kept the game teetering on the brink of chaos but seemed necessary for Orlando to cover up the loss of Kaka for the match.
Without Kaka to create space and control the attack for Orlando, the Lions were put in a position to create offense practically out of their own defending zone. Any turn of possession required an almost immediate launch of the ball over the top to Cyle Larin or forward to Brek Shea. It was an all or nothing attack every time and despite it paying off in the final moments, such a noticeable deficiency does not bode well for the upcoming season.
Orlando is a talented team. Even without Kaka, they performed reasonably well statistically. They connected on 80% of their passes and even managed to edge out the possession advantage. But despite what it showed on paper, at no point in the match did it appear that Orlando City was in control. They were clearly chasing the game from the opening kick to the final whistle. And that is just not going to be good enough if they wish to improve on last season’s results.
As great as Kaka is, and as well as he played for Orlando City last year, it is expected to see some level of drop off when he is not able to play. However, a complete abandonment of any sort control and possession tactics is alarming. At his age and place in his career, it cannot be assumed that Kaka will make every start and there needs to be some mechanism in place to prevent a falling back to what can really only be described as entry-level soccer tactics.
There wasn’t just a drop off in the run of play through the midfield either. Orlando City earned twelve corner kicks against RSL and failed to convert on any of them. Yet, they continued to take the same approach on every kick. City would body up against RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando at the goal line and kick the ball six yards in front to no one. The tactic was obvious but the execution failed every time. With no adjustment, they seemed lost and at a loss for leadership.
Obviously, that is what Kaka brings to this team and getting him back healthy will be the best way to correct the tactical lapses on display in the opener. But the question still remains, will Orlando City regress every time Kaka is forced to miss a match? The addition of Antonio Nocerino will be a big help once he is ready to take the pitch but the question still lingers for the rest of the team.
There is simply too much talent on the roster to have such a large creativity gap with the absence of Kaka. Orlando City’s list of young midfielders with high potential seems unending. Cyle Larin is a stud and Brek Shea has a very unique and diverse skill set. There simply must be a better alternative to generate offense with Kaka out of the lineup.
Not much is guaranteed from year to year in MLS, but giving away points always seems to be a bad idea. Orlando City was fortunate that they were able to snatch back a point in the closing seconds of Sunday’s opener. If they wish to avoid being in that situation again, head coach Adrian Heath will need to focus on developing up his midfield creativity and producing another field general to control the offense.
There is clear playoff opportunity in the Eastern Conference but to take advantage Orlando City will need to rely on more than just Kaka to lead them through.