Orlando City SC: Learning focus from a match lost late

Apr 20, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja during the second half
Apr 20, 2024; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja during the second half / Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

You can’t learn any less from a late loss like Orlando City SC suffered against Toronto FC. But you can learn!

Listening to what the team said after that loss, Orlando City SC players can learn more. And get better. The number one area for improvement is focus.

The match should have been a big celebration – and not just for a win or at least a draw. Midfielder Nico Lodeiro made his 200th MLS appearance in the game. By his analysis, Orlando wasn’t adequately prepared for the second half.

Lodeiro saw the visiting Toronto players take the pitch for the final 45 minutes with the kind of confidence that represents a new game strategy. Then Lodeiro and his teammates saw the visitors create chances. They focused on that instead of where they were on the pitch. His squad began to fail in creating chances and even suffered some mistakes.

Focus is the key concept in what Lodeiro noticed. Focus and concentration are taught during drills beginning in any solid youth soccer program. To create chances, every player needs to pay attention to their teammates' positions on the pitch. At the same time, they have to read opponents’ moves.

According to Lodeiro’s report, Orlando couldn’t keep possession against Toronto. Then, they started making more mistakes, which meant they were losing their focus and attention. As the second half drew to its close, the home team spent too much time defending deep, near their own goal.

Toronto FC opened the game with a back-three formation, featuring just a trio of defenders instead of the basic number of four. In the second half, playing mainly in their attacking zone, it mattered little how few defenders they were using.

During stoppage time, with Toronto ahead 2-1, the back-three formation allowed wingers to join their defenders as Orlando desperately tried to get off some desperate off-target shots.

 Head coach Oscar Pareja said his diagnosis of how to finish and win a game like theirs facing Toronto includes increasing the players' sense of urgency. He saw that urgency in their first-half performance. That’s when they were winning.

Identifying that urgency missing in the second half will explain the missing focus. The team’s strategic plan at the half should have allowed Toronto would adjust, increasing their defensive effort. And they should have considered that the visitors might also try to open offensive lanes to increase their attack, if not ensure the success of that attack.

Orlando City SC can beat many teams in matches, or at least draw them. That’s even though Orlando doesn’t have the level of talent and skills of many opposing squads. But they have solid coaching.

What they lacked in the last loss is focus. With effective drills that focus will come. And with that, the confidence the team lacked late in the match.

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