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Orlando City’s defending, attacking woes on display during loss to Seattle Sounders

Seattle Sounders FC forward Handwalla Bwana (70) dribbles the ball past Orlando City SC midfielder Scott Sutter (21) before scoring a goal during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City lost 2-1 to the Seattle Sounders at home after going down 2-0 early and failing to find an equalizer late. Here are three takeaways from the match: 

Let’s talk about Orlando City’s defense

Orlando City coach James O’Connor has repeatedly said the Lions have a habit of giving up cheap goals.

That was on full display Wednesday night against the Seattle Sounders.

O’Connor broke down how the Sounders opened the scoring, but it was simple. Cristian Roldan got in behind Will Johnson, who was playing left back. Centerback Lamine Sané was dragged out too far by Roldan’s run. Fellow centerback Shane O’Neill had Seattle Sounders players on his left and right.

O’Neill gestured to the player on his right while Victor Rodriguez (the player on his left) started inching toward the space left by Sané following Roldan. O’Neill double-checked if anyone had the player on his right marked before Kelvin Leerdam sent the ball in for Rodriguez, then tried to get to Rodriguez, but was too far away because he was so busy trying to get someone to help with the other player on his right.

Right back Scott Sutter was out in no man’s land.

Rodriguez scored, and Orlando City set a new record for goals conceded in an MLS regular season.

“When you look at the natural position when the ball is on the right-hand side if it’s an attacking play, then equally our shape should be better,” O’Connor said. “It should be more compact, and it should be across. The hole that opens up there, that shouldn’t happen. We all know where players should be. We shouldn’t have that type of shape when the ball is in the position it’s in.

“It becomes really easy when you’ve got players of [Seattle’s] caliber to play balls into areas of space that are that big. It’s basic defending principles, you deny space when you’re trying to defend. You need to be compact. When you start the game like that, the way that we are on the run we’re on, I think confidence gets really affected.”

The second goal was just as bad. Handwalla Bwanna got around Sutter pretty easily and had space to shoot because Shane O’Neill was backing up toward his own goal. Bwanna fired, the shot deflected off O’Neill and the Sounders were up 2-0 in the span of 13 minutes.

“We make it too easy for teams to be able to play through us,” O’Connor said. “It’s stuff that we’ve worked on, we’ve spoken about and I think it becomes really important when you’re trying to deny space that you do deny space. You don’t have such big, massive gaps that people are able to just slide through because I don’t see [opposing] teams giving us that kind of space when we’re trying to attack.”

Now let’s talk about the attack

The Lions went five consecutive matches without scoring a goal. That skid was broken by striker Dom Dwyer, who has a team-high 13 goals for the Lions. He scored a goal in the 57th minute of Wednesday match to cut into Seattle’s lead.

Dwyer doesn’t need the ball to be successful. He receives the ball in the penalty area and makes things happen. Orlando City needs more players willing to make those runs into the penalty area.

“I think when the ball goes wide you have to have energy and you have to have people in the box,” O’Connor said. “That’s the biggest thing. When the ball goes wide, you need to really have, especially the way we were playing in the second half, you need to have more numbers in the box.

“We’ve got quite a few that are showing enough to get the ball but if the ball is going to be crossed, we’ve got too many on the outside the box. We need more numbers inside the box and a couple backing up play in behind. There needs to be a better understanding around us when the ball goes wide, we want to get numbers into the box.”

Dwyer echoed his coach and added there needs to be a bit more hunger from individual players.

“You know, I think it’s something we are going to work on as a squad,” Dwyer said. “We need to focus on how we can get numbers forward, first, and then get the ball wide once we have numbers forward and we have numbers in the box. It’s something we’re working on in training.”

Now the goalkeeping

Orlando City has played three goalkeepers this season. All have had levels of success. Joe Bendik saved a penalty to start the season. Earl Edwards Jr. won in his first start and nearly had a clean sheet. Adam Grinwis had three saves in his first start to preserve a clean sheet.

They’ve all also had bewildering stretches of poor play. And they’re on the wrong end of an MLS-record 72 goals conceded.

“I think at this point, everyone’s playing for their own personal pride, as well as pride in the club and the badge that we have on our chest,” Grinwis said. “I said it before, we want to make our fans proud. I know that’s really difficult because of where we’re at right now, but they deserve more, and we want to do more for them. It’s about digging deep and just trying to do our best.”

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