Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer (center) celebrates with defender Mohamed El-Munir (13) and forward Stefano Pinho (29) after scoring against the Philadelphia Union during the first half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
“Versatility” was the word of the day during Orlando City’s match against Philadelphia.
Chris Mueller and Stéfano Pinho were wingers to the right and left, respectively, of attacking midfielder Sacha Kljestan. Both players were deployed as strikers early in the season with Dom Dwyer sidelined.
Midfielder Will Johnson shifted to right back after RJ Allen went down with an injury. Johsnon said he didn’t train as a right back in the week leading up to the match, though he played a few matches at the position last season.
Above all else, the formation was not the 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield that the Lions used their first three and 1/2 games of the season. Coach Jason Kreis shifted to a 4-2-3-1 in the second half of the Lions’ 4-3 victory over the New York Red Bulls. That was also striker Dom Dwyer’s first match back.
Since the tactical shift, Orlando City has won three matches in a row. The Lions play the San Jose Earthquakes at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium.
“I think it goes back to what we do out here every day,” Johnson said. “Guys mixing and matching spots. Mixing and matching teams. We’ve only played in the 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1 for a couple of weeks now. We’re still learning the system and so guys are kind of bringing their own little flair to it.
“I thought Pinho did a good job. We knew what we needed to do against Philadelphia to stay tight and compact and make sure their fast guys – their outside backs and their wingers – didn’t get a ton of space and Pinho and Mueller did an excellent job of executing the game plan. With that comes wins.”
Johnson said the Lions – who started the season plagued by injuries – didn’t have the personnel to execute the 4-4-2 diamond formation.
“It’s more of a personnel thing in terms of we just didn’t have guys,” Johnson said. “We didn’t have a true No. 9 that was used to playing in a diamond. We didn’t have a No. 10 with Sacha being out the first two games. We went with a diamond for few games and obviously, going down a red card to D.C. and then giving away goals to Minnesota and going to Yankee Stadium, it wasn’t great.
“Obviously, we’ve moved away from the diamond. For me, it was more about personnel. Getting the right guys back and finding ways to get your best soccer players on the field. I don’t know exactly what the shape will look like, but we want to get as many good, fit and in-form guys on the field as possible. We’ll put the best shape out there that allows us to do that.”
Holding midfielder Uri Rosell has yet to make his Orlando City debut. His skills as a distributor make him an ideal candidate for the No. 6 position in a diamond midfield. Early in the season, Cristian Higuita and rookie Cam Lindley were tried out at the spot with varying levels of success.
Kreis said Rosell is the “missing piece” to the diamond. He added a lot of work has gone into ensure players can line up in different formations.
“We have to be willing to adapt in the sessions, to change things up,” Kreis said. “We have to have the players very well prepared for that, you know, what’s happening in the training sessions. We have to communicate. I think communication is probably the biggest piece of that.
“Obviously, you do work on the training field, but you can only do so much, otherwise you end up with a fatigued team. We’ve had a lot of tactical meetings. A lot of video preparation to get our guys to understand what we’re trying to do.”
Kries also praised the versatility of his players.
“This was a clear objective of ours in the offseason,” he said. “To go out and obtain players that were versatile, could play in multiple positions and I think that gives us the ability to play different ways as well as get players with tactical intelligence.”