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Orlando City shifts attacking strategy under new coach James O’Connor

Orlando City forward Stefano Pinho (29) celebrates his goal with midfielder Sacha Kljestan (16) during the second half against the Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — There’s a different feel to Orlando City’s attack these days.

Under head coach James O’Connor, whose first match was against LAFC, the Lions have scored first in two of their past three matches in league play. During the 17 matches prior to O’Connor’s arrival, Orlando City scored the first goal twice. 

They’ve ceded possession – Orlando City hasn’t had the majority of the possession in any of the three MLS matches O’Connor has coached – but, for the most part, have created chances on the counterattack.

Not all those chances have found the back of the net, but O’Connor said he’s doing what he can to ensure Orlando City’s greatest weakness, defending in transition, isn’t exposed on a regular basis like it was early in the season.

“I think one of the things we spoke about is defensive transition,” O’Connor said. “I think making sure we have good understanding around that. We’re capable of scoring goals, so I think the biggest thing for us is trying to maximize the opportunities when we get them and trying to deny the opposition the space they’re looking for.

“It can almost become counter-attacking because at times we’re guilty of giving the ball away very cheaply. I think that’s something we want to stop, to be honest with you. We want to make sure we keep the ball in good areas and not have as many transition moments in a game. I think that’s something we’re trying to really sort of delve into and make sure we stop that.

“If we don’t have as many transition moments, we can have more opportunity to attack. It’s trying to create the understanding of what we’re trying to do and equally, when those chances pop up, trying to be clinical and take them.”

Despite some success in the attack, O’Connor said the Lions have had some bad luck. Orlando City lost 4-1 to LAFC, but only after a goal from striker Dom Dwyer that would have tied the match at two goals apiece was overturned by a questionable offside call.

Orlando City lost 3-2 to the Columbus Crew on Saturday after the match referee incorrectly awarded the Crew a penalty, which was converted to tie the match at 2-2.

“I think when you look at the goals that we’ve scored, the chance creation that we’ve had, I think it’s been really, really positive,” O’Connor said. “For us, it’s trying to analyze, trying to refocus and making sure that we highlight the positives and just tidy up a couple of things.

“There’s been some performances we’ve been pleased with and we were all really disappointed with the Open Cup, but apart from that I think the performances… we’ve been very encouraged by those performances. I think you saw again against Columbus, our chance creation against a very, very good team was good.

“It’s controlling what you can control. Trying to stay in a level emotional state, which for me can be difficult at times as well because nobody wants to win more than me, for sure.”

Player updates

Goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr., Orlando City’s starter during the past three matches, rolled his left ankle during the Lions’ match against the Columbus Crew and had to be subbed off in the 32nd minute.

Joe Bendik replaced Edwards. Benidk , the Lions’ starter for most of the season before Edwards took over, had three saves during Saturday’s loss.

A club spokesperson confirmed Edwards has a mild left ankle sprain and is day-to-day. Edwards trained on Tuesday with the other goalkeepers during the portion of Orlando City training that was open to members of the media.

Centerback Lamine Sané, who hasn’t played since Orlando City’s 4-0 loss to Atlanta United on June 30 due to a quad injury, was present for Tuesday’s training session. He trained to the side.

Centerback and captain Jonathan Spector (hamstring) was not present for Tuesday’s training session. He hasn’t played since he subbed off in the 25th minute of Orlando City’s loss to LAFC on July 7.

Right back Scott Sutter and midfielder Cristian Higuita (adductor injuries) were both at Tuesday’s training session. Higuita played in Orlando City’s loss to the Crew, while Sutter was in the match-day 18.




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