By Harrison Hamm (@harrisonhamm21)
How not to play out of the press, by Orlando City
Sporting KC survived at home against Orlando on Saturday, winning 1-0 on a Felipe Gutierrez strike. They were missing three potential starters (Daniel Salloi and Diego Rubio on int’l duty, Ike Opara on yellow card suspension) and consistently lacked ideas in the final third. But Orlando didn’t generate anything, so SKC walked away with three points.
Under James O’Conner, OCSC have bunkered. Their defensive line is deep, the midfield is tight to the backline and they often sit 11 in the defensive half. At some point, they’ll have to figure out how to do more than that.
They struggled to possess the ball against Sporting, who are a notoriously difficult team to possess the ball against. That doesn’t make abomination this any better from Orlando:
SKC didn’t unleash the full extent of their suffocating press in this game, because clearly all they had to do was send Yohan Croizet at the ball and let the Lions make every wrong decision possible.
The key to playing out of the press is quick decision-making and the ability to create passing triangles, which allow you to find easy outlets. You can’t play out of the back with a couple players and a goalkeeper, because any coherent team can jump the lanes with ease. You also can’t box yourself into a corner, for obvious reasons.
It’s hard to see on the TV camera angle, but it looks like there was only one other Orlando player in the vicinity, and he was marked tightly by Roger Espinoza. This is part bad coaching by O’Conner — it’s the coach’s job to set up positioning with the ball — and part bad decision-making at the back. Seeing that only one player was actively pressing the ball, it shouldn’t have been this hard to find someone else to pass to. At least boot the ball up field before conceding possession so deep in your own end.
There’s a middle ground between bunkering, as Orlando have diligently been doing, and trying to be the Columbus Crew playing out of the back. The Lions have to find that middle ground, and maybe try moving out of their own 18-yard box before actually trying to pass the ball.
Cristian Higuita’s strengths
Sticking with the SKC-Orlando game, Cristian Higuita picked up another start on the wing for some reason, part of O’Conner’s fascination with playing as many defensive midfielders as possible (no surprise that I almost typed Anthony Hudson’s name accidentally instead of O’Conner’s).
Higuita is about average as an MLS deep-lying midfielder and generally needs some support to maximize his effectiveness, both in terms of defending and passing. The Colombian sometimes tends to range away from his area of the field, and he’s not a difference-making distributor.
But he’s no revolving door either, and a lot of that is thanks to his physical attributes. He maneuvers his body well enough to make things difficult for opposing players:
He brings down the ball, knows he doesn’t have many options, and gets into a battle with the smaller Gerso Fernandes, eventually winning a free-kick. There’s a level of mental confidence and awareness that goes into doing this, quickly realizing that the best option in the given situation is to win a physical battle. Higuita can make these positive plays.
He’s been a rare point of stability for Orlando. His 11% touch percentage indicates that he plays a fairly large role on the ball for the Lions, and his passing score of 14.2 is solid. He should continue to be a building block, or at least a role player.
Edgar Castillo’s mistake
Jeremy Ebobisse started for the Timbers, finally, and scored the eventual winner against the Rapids. He was good and productive, although he did lose his title as xG Sample Size King.
His goal came in part due to Colorado right back Edgar Castillo’s misstep as he attempted to defend a through-ball to Sebastian Blanco:
Judging how to defend these types of passes, particularly in open space, is an underrated part of playing fullback. You have to toe the line between prevention — meaning, whether to commit yourself to the ball or step back and defend 1v1 — and possession, that you could potentially win the ball outright. To assure that you don’t initiate disaster, you have to judge the path of the ball correctly.
Castillo, caught between two minds, failed to do that. He didn’t know whether he could intercept the ball or whether he had to let Blanco have it. He tried to nip the ball away from Blanco at the last second to make up for this indecision, but the Argentine managed to run right through the ball and ended up with an assist.
This isn’t an easy position to be in, because it requires you to quickly anticipate your move on the ball based on its path. A lot of the time, the defender ends up doing something similar to Castillo: nicking it away at the last second, usually into open space beyond the nearest attacker. That usually is an effective, if minimal, course of action. Sometimes, you do it too late, get unlucky, and the above happens.