Orlando City SC played their first competitive match under Jason Kreis last week, and came back to win 3-1 against the New England Revolution. It was, in general, a success for OCSC, and a game from which they can build upon. They were able to get things clicking again offensively — Kaka returned, and Kevin Molino continues to be the most underrated player in the league — and they managed to vault themselves into a tie for the sixth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
In an unpredictable postseason race, Orlando have no choice but to keep picking up those points. They got themselves on a good trajectory last week, and now they have to continue it, especially in home games. Another one of those is coming up on Sunday, when they face the supposedly-rejuvenated Seattle Sounders at Camping World Stadium.
The Sounders are only five points behind Orlando, but are nine points out of the playoffs out west. I think we all know their situation at the moment: Nicolas Lodeiro arrived last week, proved himself to be all he's stacked up to be with a dominating performance, and yet Seattle still managed to drop points against LA, leaving themselves with long playoff odds. They've been the headline club of late, and that's why they play in primetime TV again this weekend.
But we're going to look at this game from OCSC's perspective, because I think we've all heard enough about Seattle. Crucial for Kreis's team in this one will be how they involve Cyle Larin, and how they are able to find space in front of the Sounders' backline.
Brian Schmetzer played what resembled a 4-2-3-1 against the Galaxy, with traditional No. 6 Osvaldo Alonso playing alongside Cristian Roldan in a double-pivot deep midfield combination formed to off-set the defensive difficulties that were bound to arise from the front four. It worked, as LA were stunted offensively by the free-roaming Roldan and the ball-winning Alonso.
One of the reasons it was successful was because they didn't have to deal with a true No. 9, as Gyasi Zardes was sidelined. They were allowed to stay home — for the most part — and had a much easier time marking Robbie Keane without someone else around to drag defenders and free up space.
Well, they will have to face a true 9 in Orlando, and that's where Larin comes in.
The young Canadian will prove to be a tough, tough challenge for Alonso and Roldan. He is very adept at playing with his back to goal and moving to wherever on the field he feels he can find space for himself and for his teammates. Against the Sounders, that means in the left-central channel, where Roldan will likely be stationed. Larin will drift over and force the second-year American to defend him, which is not a great scenario for Seattle.
Just look at how well Larin is able to tilt the field in favor of his team:
The ball is on Larin's foot on the bottom of the picture, with two Revolution players fighting to get it while a total of seven players stand in the immediate vicinity of them. It's not hard to realize the effect this has: Orlando attackers like Molino and Kaka will have loads of room to work with.
It's an unfavorable matchup for the Sounders, and one that they will have to find a way to counter-act. Maybe that means keeping Joevin Jones deeper in his full-back position, or maybe it means telling a winger to come closer to the touchline and get back on defense. Whatever the solution is, the impact of Larin is very likely weighing on Schmetzer's mind.
Colorado can't score
The Colorado Rapids are second in the Supporters' Shield standings, just two points behind FC Dallas with three games in hand, and have lost just three games this season. It can't be denied that they are in a good position right now, and will likely end up with a high playoff seed, if not a trophy.
But I wouldn't place bets on them winning the MLS Cup (or, for that matter, the Shield) this season, and here's why: They don't score goals. They simply don't.
The Rapids have easily scored the least amount of goals among playoff teams, and they have scored more than once in a game just twice since May. The reason for the extended drought? Well, that's not explicitly clear.
Maybe it's because they don't have a consistent goal-scorer in the lineup. Their leading scorer — Kevin Doyle — only has four goals this season, and the player who was supposed to be the one producing in this area, Shkelzen Gashi, has just three. Without consistent production from an individual, it's natural for overall scoring numbers to decrease. Of the 12 clubs currently in playoff position, all but four teams (including Colorado) have at least player who has scored seven or more goals, and the three other clubs that don't (Dallas, Vancouver, and New England) each have a player with four or more assists on the season.
It's possible that particular problem could go away by the end of the season. Doyle missed a portion of the spring after an injury suffered on national team duty, and Gashi spent time at the Euros with Albania, so with more consistent playing time, they could pick up their output in the box score. It's unlikely this will happen, however, as they aren't getting the chances they need to produce at the highest level. That is where the root of this issue lies.
Colorado don't create quality chances, and that's sort of a problem. They had the second-lowest team xG on July 21 per American Soccer Analysis, which puts them below the Houston Dynamo in terms of playmaking ability. Despite their above-average shot numbers — they have the fifth-most shots on target per game — they fail to come up with an end product most of the time, and that's due to the fact that they can't consistently create good scoring chances.
Almost half of their average shots per game come from outside of the box, which is why their xG are so low. They fail to get players in good scoring positions, and when you can't do that, you won't score goals.
And if you can't score goals, you won't be winning any silverware. As good as their defense is, it won't be able to overcome the difficulties that are currently plaguing the attack.