Orlando City Chooses to be Boring, but it's Effective

Mar 19, 2022; Carson, California, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Javier Hernandez (14) walks off
Mar 19, 2022; Carson, California, USA; Los Angeles Galaxy forward Javier Hernandez (14) walks off / Kiyoshi Mio-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday's win against the Los Angeles Galaxy wasn't a ringing endorsement of the "beautiful game". Orlando City lined up with a defensive starting XI, with all three of Junior Urso, Sebas Mendez and Cesar Araujo starting in midfield, and only two natural forwards with Ercan Kara and Facundo Torres.

That pragmatic, defensive lineup lived up to its negative potential, with the Lions ceding most of the possession and defending aggressively as a team. When the Galaxy had the ball, they had to break down a compact and organized defensive unit. The result ended with a 1-0, smash 'n grab Papi Special.

For a fan, particularly a fan who prefers style of play to pure "grit it out" results, it was a struggle to watch. In my ideal world, Orlando would win the way LAFC won in 2019, the Atlanta won in 2018, or the way a Pep Guardiola team wins. Winning by creating, by playing beautiful soccer and creating opportunities, that's the ideal for all fans.

That's not what we saw from Orlando City. It was gritty, negative and at times inefficient. Orlando played physically and aggressively, fouled tactically and defended collectively. This was not an MLS version of Pep's Barcelona, it was MLS's Atletico Madrid.

And while that style isn't pretty, it can be really effective. Orlando got all three points on the road against on of the better teams in the league. This type of extreme pragmatism can have an equalizing effect against good teams, especially on the road. And with the defensive personnel Orlando City boasts, particularly center back Antonio Carlos and goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, the Lions can afford to play a physical low block.

Saturday's result showed that Orlando has the ability to grit and grind its way to big results against good teams on the road, and that's a trait of the best teams. Even Atlanta and LAFC at their best struggled at times playing too open. It wasn't until the 2018 playoffs, when Atlanta became a bit more pragmatic, that the Five Stripes got over the hump. The ability to win in multiple ways makes a team elite. Now Orlando needs to find how to win with the ball.