New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis
artwork by @chapluana

New York Red Bulls hosted Orlando City last Saturday in Major League Soccer, hoping to continue their winning form after beating San Jose a week prior. Orlando sought their first win of the season after only picking up two points from their first three games. At full-time Orlando narrowly upset NY Red Bulls with a 73rd-minute goal from Sacha Kljestan. In this tactical analysis, we will analyse the adjustments head coach James O’Connor made to win the game.

Team news

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics

International duty took Aaron Long (USA), Michael Amir Murillo (Panama) and Kaku (Paraguay) out of contention for the Red Bulls. Long and Murillo, who featured in the 4-1 win over San Jose, were replaced by Amro Tarek and Connor Lade. Kyle Duncan moved to right back after starting on the left a week earlier. The only other change to the Red Bull’s starting lineup saw Alex Muyl replace Florian Valot on the right.

Orlando City only lost one player to an international call-up with Will Johnson (Canada) missing from the roster. The team’s shape was considerably different from the 3-1 loss to Montreal last week, ditching the 4-2-2-2 formation. Five new players made their way into Orlando’s lineup with Danilo Acosta, Jhegson Mendez, Chris Mueller, Dom Dwyer and Will Johnson making way for Alex DeJohn, Robin Jansson, Joao Moutinho, Oriol Rossell and Santiago Patino.

How it happened

New York frustrated Orlando with a high press, forcing the visitors to play more directly than they would have hoped. With no real target to aim at, Orlando’s chance creation was almost nonexistent. High wingbacks allowed Nani and Kljestan to tuck in, but they rarely found the ball. Orlando’s best chances came from Brazillian wingback Ruan, who nearly bagged himself a goal and an assist from the right.

Late into the first half, Nani was given freedom to roam, allowing him to find more dangerous positions to link up with his teammates. It was only when Dom Dwyer came on in the 60th minute that Orlando looked threatening, as the USA international provided an outlet high up the field. Dwyer was pivotal in the buildup to Kljestan’s winner in the 73rd minute. The rest of this tactical analysis will look at the game’s tactical themes in more depth.

New York Red Bulls’ high press

Throughout the 90 minutes, New York defended high up the park and adopted their notorious high pressing style. The press prevented Orlando from building out from the back, forcing them to play more direct. This resulted in 26 per cent of Orlando’s passes to be longballs, with New York only playing long 19 per cent of the time.

In the passage of play shown below, Robin Jansson possesses the ball deep into Orlando’s defensive half. As soon as he takes a touch forward the New York attackers begin to press him.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
When Jansson takes his first touch Wright-Phillips, Muyl and Bezecourt begin to press.

As soon as Jansson has taken his touch forward, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Alex Muyl close him down. Vincent Bezecourt moves into a position in front of Ascues and Rosell, preventing any pass into the midfield. Davis also provides coverage on Rosell. Wright-Phillips and Muyl’s positioning prevents any wide passes to O’Neil or Moutinho. This forces Jansson to play the ball long.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
New York’s press leaves no short options for Jansson, forcing him to play the ball long.

Orlando made 43 clearances compared to New York’s 20. The visitors found themselves under considerable pressure when they did try to play out the back. As a result, New York made two interceptions in Orlando’s defensive third, leading to a fantastic goal scoring opportunity for Omir Fernandez in the 29th minute.

The chance came after the Red Bulls pressed Ruan deep into his half, forcing him to play into the middle of the park. A well-positioned Fernandez intercepted the sloppy pass and had a free shot from the 18-yard box.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
New York’s press force Ruan to make a risky pass which is intercepted by a well-positioned Fernandez.

The inability to play out of the back isolated Orlando’s front three of Nani, Patino and Kljestan. The visitors were forced to find other avenues of penetration, hence the number of longballs mentioned earlier.

The Red Bulls’ best chances came off corners, having two headers cleared off the line throughout the match. New York won seven corners, some of which were awarded after pressuring Orlando deep into their own half.

Ruan

One of Orlando’s best options going forward, before the introduction of Dom Dwyer, was Ruan. The Brazilian defender made six dribbles throughout the match, five of which finished in New York’s half. His pace put Daniel Royer and Connor Lade under pressure, forcing them to step into the wide areas. This created space in the middle of the park of Orlando’s attackers.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ruan’s dribbles (dot indicates where dribble was completed) provided by WhoScored.com

Ruan was most dangerous when he played on the line of New York’s last defender. In the 24th minute, Ruan almost set up Patino after a great run into the box. With space in the middle of the field, Moutinho could see Ruan isolated on the right side. The Red Bulls attempted an offside trap, but Ruan found himself onside and baring down on goal.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ruan’s heat map provided by WhoScored.com

Ruan also registered the most shots of any Orlando player on the night with two, one of which being the best-unconverted chance of the match. After some great play on the counter-attack, Ruan found himself through on goal on the right side of the field. Luis Robles saved his effort after coming off his line to make the save.

The following images showcase Ruan’s offensive positioning. In the 20th minute, when Orlando attack down the left side of the field, Ruan sits on the line of the last defender, spreading the field.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ruan sits on the line of the last defender in the final third.

Ruan took up a high position even when Orlando possessed their ball deep in their own half. The high press of New York prevented Orlando from consistently playing the ball out the back, but Ruan offered an outlet high and wide.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ruan sits on the line of the last defender during the build up.
New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Ruan runs onto the long ball spreading New York’s defenders wide and out of position.

Dom Dwyer vs Santiago Patino

In the 60th minute, James O’Connor brought on Dom Dwyer for Santiago Patino, a decision that would ultimately win his side the game. In the 60 minutes he played, Patino only touched the ball 12 times and found himself isolated high up the field. After his introduction, Dwyer made 20 touches in 37 minutes of play. Dwyer also eclipsed Patino’s passing statistics, registering nine passes to Patino’s five. Of those nine passes, five where forward. Patino only managed one forward pass.

In the following image, Patino calls for a pass into space from Kljestan. The pass came but was over hit and easily collected by the Red Bull’s goalkeeper. Rarely did Patino come short for the ball, limiting Orlando’s options during their build up.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Patino calls for a pass as he makes a deep run.

The following image shows, once again, how Patino’s first instinct was to make a forward run. Luis Nani possesses the ball but doesn’t have enough space to make the difficult through ball. The orange circle shows the free space Patino could have run into to link up with his teammate.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Patino calls for a pass behind the defenders instead of showing short.

Dwyer played a pivotal role in the only goal of the day. The chance came after Shane O’Neil knocked a ball into Dwyer from the back in the 72nd minute. Dwyer’s ability to hold up the ball allowed Orlando to bypass the New York high press and jump straight into the attack.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
O’Neil, with no short options, plays a long ball to the striker.

O’Neil plays a direct ball from the back, and instead of looking to find space behind the defenders, Dwyer comes short. He holds up the play well and quickly distributed the ball out wide to Moutinho who then set up Kljestan’s shot.

New York Red Bulls Orlando City MLS Tactical Analysis Statistics
Instead of looking for a ball over the defender’s heads, Dwyer moves into the space to hold up the ball.

Conclusion

New York Red Bulls will be very disappointed with their performance in this match. Their high press frustrated Orlando throughout the first half of the game, but tactical decisions from head coach James O’Connor provided the Floridian team with a more dynamic attack later in the match. Despite having great chances to score off corners and interceptions, Orlando goalkeeper Brian Rowe did fantastically well to earn himself a clean sheet.

Next week, New York Red Bulls travel to Chicago Fire, where Veljko Paunovic and his team will be looking for their first win of the season. Orlando, on the other hand, play host to DC United who currently sit atop the Eastern Conference with seven points in three games.


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Jamie Brackpool

As an avid fan, coach, and student of the game, football has taken over my life. And you know what? I don't mind. That's why any spare time I have is spent writing about it.