Tactics Talk: Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City

A tactical look at the Philadelphia Union's 2-0 loss to Orlando City SC on Sunday evening.

Tactics Talk: Philadelphia Union vs. Orlando City
Alejandro Bedoya chases down Christian HiguitaImage Courtesy of Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Union fell at home to Orlando City on Sunday afternoon and bizarrely thanks to results elsewhere all but clinched a playoff spot.  But how did the game unravel tactically? Let's look at the x's and o's.

Lineups and Style differences

The Union and Orlando are in many respects not dissimilar, both tend to line up in some sort of variation of 4-2-3-1 with strikers who excel at holding up the ball and have a surprising amount of pace for their size, aging pass-masters at the number ten spot who sometimes have a tendency to drift wide, a bit of a revolving door at central defense and midfield and outside backs who love to get forward, sometimes at the expense of the defence. Ultimately Orlando rely on pace far more, with options such as Cyle Larin, Carlos Rivas, and Kevin Molino capable of running in behind and often choosing to dribble instead of cross (not true wingers) and as such differ from a Philadelphia team who often like to high press their opponents and cross more than a Catholic priest.     

Individual match-ups 

The match up of Rivas and Larin versus Ken Tribbett was thoroughly in Orlando's favor with the Orlando forwards getting in behind the Union defense three or four times in the first 10 minutes alone and forcing the Philadelphia defense to foul Rivas on a number of occasions, which they failed to capitalize on despite rotating Kaka, Rivas, and Matias Perez Garcia on several set pieces. Both Tribbett and Brian Carroll made largely unforced errors that only due to poor play from Orlando or a last-minute recovery, not goals for Orlando. In Tribbet's case it was the trip that let Rivas run through on goal ten minutes in, (although he missed) and Carroll being dispossessed in the 18th.  In Carroll's case he more than made up for it with his tenacity and ball winning later in the match but speculation says that Ken Tribbett wouldn't be on the field against such a quick side if it weren't for Joshua Yaro's concussion.

Brian Carroll challenges for the ball. Image Courtesy of Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images North America
Brian Carroll challenges for the ball.
Image Courtesy of Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images North America

Wing battles

A usually forward thinking pair of outside backs, the Union's Fabinho and Keegan Rosenberry, to the untrained eye, were often pinned back by the waves of runs being made by Orlando wingers and outside backs alike. The heat map seems to confirm this when examining their activity versus Orlando.

Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com
Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com

As you can see, neither made it to the edge of the box (right side of the picture) much if at all throughout the game and spent a significant amount of time in their own half (as seen on the left side) In comparison to their activity versus the New York Red Bulls, some two weeks ago. (Below) Both have dark spots slightly closer toward the box on the left side of the picture, in particular, Fabinho (whose activity is toward the lower half of the picture), who had two assists that day. 

Image Courtesy of WhoScored.com

But statistically, it's not so simple. Not only did Fabinho and Keegan Rosenberry get in six crosses each, higher than their per game average of 3.8 and 3 but the two of them combined attempted more crosses than the entirety of Orlando's wings (meaning outside backs Rafael Ramos and Mikey Ambrose as well as wingers, Carlos Rivas and Matias Perez Garcia). The team's crossing accuracy was higher today (32%) than versus the New York Red Bulls (27%). 

This, however, is in itself somewhat deceiving given Rivas' tendency to cut in from the wing and try to shoot as well as his positional switches with Kaka who often drifted wide left while Rivas came inside. Rivas had zero crosses on the night, Kaka had 3.

This strategy was extremely effective, Kaka was afforded more space on the wing to operate, making three key passes ( the most of any player on the day, second only to Matias Perez Garcia's four) as opposed to in the center of midfield where Philadelphia had as many as three midfielders at times. Furthermore, Rivas was in his adjusted central position when Fabinho made the error that lead to Rivas' goal, a result of the tactical shift. 

Team Tactics

Philadelphia did well to high press Orlando early in the match, they congested the middle of the pitch and forced one on one situations on the wings. This caused Orlando to play the ball long and for Kaka to drift out wide in order to find space, which in some respects played into Orlando's strengths as the diagonal long balls to their pacy wingers caused some havoc against the Union defense. Philadelphia defended well in one on one situations for the most part but left themselves exposed at the back, particularly late on in the match without the protection of Brian Carroll, ultimately resulting in Orlando's second goal. The introduction of Roland Alberg, a move intended to spark a Union comeback when down a goal ultimately backfired. Carroll spent much of the game winning challenges, shielding the ball, and starting attacks. He was at the heart of the Union's two best chances, releasing Sapong who held up the ball and played in an onrushing Fabian Herbers whose cross was cleared and again midway through the first half to Tranquillo Barnetta who played Herbers into the box but his finishing let him down. Alberg's tendency not to defend left Philadelphia thoroughly exposed in the final twenty minutes of the match Orlando took advantage of this, breaking with pace  

The Union did well to win the initial ball on set pieces but allowed Orlando too much space on the second ball which later extended to "lost ball chances"- Fabinho's mistake and mistakes from Carroll. Tribbett and Alejandro Bedoya in the first half. From a player management standpoint, introducing Ilsinho to inject pace into the match was a relative success as was Orlando's introduction of Kevin Molino for a tired Carlos Rivas. 

Ultimately, much to the chagrin of Philadelphia fans, it was more so a Union loss- having shot themselves in the foot on numerous occasions, than an Orlando win.