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Orlando City’s issues exposed during 5-2 loss to Vancouver Whitecaps

Orlando City forward Dom Dwyer celebrates his goal against the Whitecaps with forward Chris Mueller during the second half at BC Place. (Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City lost its fifth consecutive MLS match on Saturday, a 5-2 defeat at the hands of the Vancouver Whitecaps. The loss was the Lions’ (6-7-1, 19 points) second MLS defeat in a row by three goals. Here are three takeaways from the match: 

Frustration in the attack

There should be some frustration in Orlando City’s attack. When the Lions aren’t giving the ball away in the middle of the pitch, they have little trouble getting into the final third.

Once they’re in the final third, things go sideways.

“We know what to do when we get in these positions,” rookie Chris Mueller said. “We’re just not finishing the final chance. It’s becoming really critical at this point. I’m going to keep listening to the older guys, keep listening to what the coaching staff is telling me. We’re just going to try to move forward.”

Mueller said it’s frustrating when attacking chances aren’t finished.

“Especially when it’s game after game like this,” he said. “Just hoping that something turns your way.”

Against Vancouver, winger Justin Meram was oddly passive. He started and didn’t take a shot — a first for him in an Orlando City kit.

It’s been rough going for Meram lately. One of the issues is he’s been playing without Dom Dwyer on the pitch.  Dwyer commands space and Meram is usually good at getting into the spaces the striker opens up.

Without Dwyer, opposing defenders can collapse on Meram and force him to either make his way through or cough the ball up.

That’s the thing about Dwyer — he opens up space for everyone.

Every attacking player for Orlando City has had some trouble opening up space on their own. It’s just more obvious when it comes to someone like Meram, who came into this season off a career-best year with the Columbus Crew.

Careless giveaways continue to doom Lions

The argument could be made the Orlando City’s fullbacks lack speed in transition — and when Mohamed El-Munir isn’t on the pitch, that can be true – but they’re a product of the system Jason Kreis likes to play. The left and right backs are frequently high up the pitch by design.

El-Munir is a valuable attacking player and Will Johnson at right back has frequently shown the savvy needed to make attacking runs and free up space for other players.

But…

Because they’re always so high up the pitch, they’re frequently left trying to run down wingers when the ball is turned over in the middle of the pitch. When faced with a player like Vancouver’s Alphonso Davies, they get torched.

Johnson has been able to use his physicality and awareness to force players off the ball and El-Munir has shown the ability to run down just about anyone, but if the ball is turned over in the middle of the pitch with everyone inching toward the final third, it sets Orlando City up to get burned in transition.

The issue is multi-faceted and not just about one player being too slow or out of position. Collective defending after a turnover is a problem for this club — players are focused on getting forward and are completely disorganized when the ball is turned over. Kreis acknowledged this is an ongoing issue.

“We give the ball away one time in the middle of midfield, we’re disorganized with where our players are and [Vancouver goes] right down the field and scores the first chance they have,” Kreis said. “It’s too many times.”

Dwyer’s presence, Colmán and Mueller’s growth

Within seconds of star striker  Dwyer stepping on the pitch, Orlando City scored.

He didn’t have much to do with the goal, other than commanding the attention of Vancouver’s back line. Maybe that’s enough. Dwyer tacked on a late goal to give Orlando City its first multi-goal performance in MLS play since a 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake on May 6.

There’s just something about Dwyer being on the field that makes the attack go.

“Him out there, it brings a little bit of a spark,” Mueller said. “It gives some of the guys a little bit more belief, in my opinion, that’s what it kind of comes across as. Dom’s just a really good player. He’s one of the best in the league at what he does. He scores goals, he holds up the ball for us, he provides so many different things, outlets when we’re taking a lot of pressure.”

That said, Orlando City’s future is bright with Mueller and Josué Colmán in the attack. For the majority of the first half against Vancouver, the two youngsters were Orlando City’s best attacking players. Colmán is able to dribble in space and find open teammates and Mueller is steadily improving his movement without the ball.

In fact, there were a few times Mueller just threw his hands in the air while he was all alone on the right side of the final third.

Colmán and Mueller aren’t perfect yet, but they’re steadily improving. It’s no surprise the two combined with Dwyer to get Orlando City a goal at the end of the match.

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