Part One, discussing Orlando's lineup and form, was posted yesterday
When assessing the threat posed by Orlando, one must look no further than Kaka, their midfield talisman.
His greatness on the world stage may have waned these past few seasons, but he is still of the highest class and if he keeps up his current quality of play, he will long be remembered as one of the best designated players in MLS history.
That may seem a grandiose statement after just seven matches, but he has already helped ease his expansion side into their inaugural season, almost single-handedly driving them forward against all odds. With three goals and an assist, Toronto will have to watch him carefully.
He is the catalyst for a lot of the good things Orlando City does. His link-up play is sublime, as will be seen in detail, and his penchant for a shot from anywhere – he has taken nineteen attempts at goal, seven of which were on target – is a constant threat. He will find chances.
Kaka would score late in the home and season opener against New York City on a free-kick – TFC must be wary of giving him those opportunities; however, he is just as dangerous in open-play.
Consider this blast from distance earlier in that match. Kaka begins the play on the left, passing up to Kevin Molino and immediately begins his move into the middle. Molino gets the back-line moving with a little one-two, before squaring a ball into the path of Kaka atop the arc – were it not for a fine save from Josh Saunders, his first MLS goal would have been a pretty one:
Toronto's midfield will have to track his movements carefully and woe to those who give him the space for such chances. But even if one does keep him close, Kaka has a way of making fools of those who approach, as exemplified by this snippet against Montreal:
That is nearly-unstoppable quality from the Brazilian maestro – either he gets the shot off, or is fouled for a penalty.
His ability to operate in those tight spaces led to a pair of goals in Montreal – setting up the first for Pedro Ribeiro, before calmly dispatching the second himself:
Orlando City pulled off a masterstroke with the acquisition of the Brazilian and head coach Adrian Heath has constructed a side that can get the most out of the now 33-year old – it was his birthday on Wednesday by the way.
Though Kaka himself still has some speed - making a lung-busting, forty-yard dash against Portland that was wasted by a poor pass - Heath wisely has filled his side with burners to do most the work for Kaka, allowing him to pick the passes, whether long balls into space, flicked ones over the top, or slipped through-balls between defenders for his fleet-footed teammates to latch onto.
Molino, Carlos Rivas, Bryan Rochez, even Canada's own, Cyle Larin, all have the wheels to make those runs, and Kaka is able to shred the most capable of MLS back-lines – Toronto's, from the opponent's view, must look positively inviting.
Take this move against DC. Starting on the left, Kaka initiates the attack by slicing through the middle – in the centre-circle no less – to get away from pressure, finding the clear path towards the box. Confronted with that threat, the DC defenders are deer-in-the-headlights, neither committing to step to Kaka, nor tracking the run of Molino – a simple slipped ball down the right-channel and Molino is in on goal. Were it not for Bill Hamid's big save, Orlando would have taken the lead long before Luis Silva could win it in stoppage-time:
Toronto must do better than DC at dealing with both those challenges, staying calm in the face of pressure and dividing the duties to ensure full coverage – if they defend as they have for most of the season, this could get ugly.
That speed makes Orlando particularly dangerous on the counter, especially if TFC is forced to push forward in search of an equalizer – for what it is worth, Orlando is yet to relinquish a lead this season.
Having taken such a lead in Portland, the Lions were able to absorb pressure and look to hit on the counter. Diego Chara was perhaps lucky to not see red when he hauled down Molino, and Kaka would seal the result from the penalty spot after his devastating pass sprung Rivas and Timbers keeper, Adam Larsen Kwarasey was goaded into making a rash challenge in the box:
It should be noted that having seen three yellow cards in their opener for simulation, Orlando has a bit of reputation for going to ground easily – the penalty kick above is an example – Rivas played for the call, rather than trying to beat the keeper. The little celebratory punch at winning the call could be interpreted as such. That said, when Kaka is the penalty taker, it is all but assured such calls will lead to goals.
This game is ripe for a red card. Combine Orlando's speed and passing, with Toronto's shambolic defending and that is a recipe for disaster, but as will be seen, Orlando has their own disciplinary problems.
Orlando are quite fond of the slipped ball, taking advantage of their speed to surge into those wide spaces. Larin's goal is such an example, sort of. Kaka's pass is blocked, but Molino recovers, making the end-line run on the right before pulling back to find the Canadian in the middle:
That width in attack is doubly concerning, as it creates gaps in the middle for Kaka and Larin to run into.
One final note, depending on how Heath lines up his side, Orlando has a tendency to look a little lop-sided.
In recent outings, Molino will drift to the right with Larin staying central, while Kaka, the other of the three-forward players, operates more-or-less centrally, roaming to find space. That draws the attention of defenders to the middle and right, leaving a big gap on the left side of the attack, perfect for the galloping runs of Brek Shea to fill.
Shea will get forward and fling crosses into the area, or link up. Not the perfect embodiment, but this chance that fell to Molino against DC – Hamid would get just enough of his effort to direct it against the post – is what can happen when too much attention is focused on Kaka. Three DC players get sucked to him deep, opening up that lane for Shea, and then a woeful clearing attempt at the back-post leads to the chance:
If Toronto manages to tiptoe that line between marking Kaka and keeping the Orlando defenders in front of them, the aforementioned red card could very well fall Orlando's way.
Aurelien Collin is known for his aggressive play and has already seen one this season for a nasty tackle on David Villa. Rafael Ramos is unavailable after his horror-tackle in Columbus. The point is that Orlando can be a little too aggressive and a player like Giovinco will annoy them deeply.
Collin is a very active defender, but he can be guilty of overcommitting. Draw him wide or get him isolated and good things will happen.
Though a fine defender, whether or not Collin is the calming influence that every team needs on their back-line – think Chad Marshall in Seattle – is a matter for debate. His overzealous play has the unintended effect of unsettling a back-line that is still getting to know each other
Take Columbus' opener from the weekend. Collin, despite seeing that his centre-back partner Seb Hines is already confronting Tony Tchani, steps up into the play, leaving Ramos to collect the weak, aimless ball into the box. Collin then first crowds, then backs off his teammate, who though not under direct pressure, is in an awkward position. Ramos makes the mistake of poking the ball into the wide area, where Ethan Finlay collects and finds the run of Higuain – not tracked by a stationary Collin – who flicks home:
Communication is key to defending and that play was an absolute mess from start to finish. Shea is not really a defender, Collin is a little too individualistic, and they have had few matches together to gel. Giovinco will pick such poor play apart, if given the chance.
A similar concern pervades the defensive coverage provided by the midfield and how they interact, dividing responsibilities between themselves and the back-line. Mix Diskerud's goal on opening day provides just such an example.
A short corner sends Orlando scrambling, but once Diskerud goes back wide to Villa, Orlando shuts off the pressure at the top of the area, while the back-line, plus Amobi Okugo, the defensive-midfielder, drop very deep, focusing too much on the ball and the cross, leaving a huge gap for Diskerud to be found and to bend a right-footer to the far-side of goal:
TFC has players that can sting from those areas, whether Michael Bradley arriving late to the top of the box, Jozy Altidore drifting off the back-shoulder, Giovinco bursting into those gaps, or Jonathan Osorio picking his spots.
Those sort of mental mistakes, switching off for a split second or two, have proved very costly for Orlando. Against Columbus, not only were Ramos' giveaway and red card poor, but the Crew's second came from an equally silly passage. Cristian Higuita does a wonderful job to track back, as Columbus counter, intercepting a Finlay pull-back.
But then, without an outlet pass and with his teammates just staring at him – look at Darwin Ceren and Shea in particular – he dawdles on the ball, allowing Kei Kamara to get a touch to Justin Meram, who blasts past Donovan Ricketts:
Intensity of play is an underrated asset. Closing down the ball-carrier, never giving up on a play. That goal from Columbus was all about hard-work and sticktoitiveness – a little bit of that from Toronto could go a long way on Sunday.
One final consideration: Ricketts is a fine keeper and an excellent shot-stopper, but as he has shown repeatedly over his MLS career, his decision-making can be a little suspect. Kamara's goal, Columbus' third, shows that sort of indecision. Ricketts rushes out to make the challenge, but does not commit, finding himself in no-man's land, allowing Kamara an easy chipped finish:
This match should be exciting. Both teams have excellent attacking quality and suspect defenses. There will be goals.
Points of Interest
This is the first ever MLS meeting between the two sides; they will meet twice more before the regular season comes to an end with a pair of matches in Toronto – August 5 and 22.
They have however met several times over the years in preseason action, playing in each of the last five seasons, each winning one match and drawing the other three.
They drew 0-0 this season, while in 2014 goals from Kyle Bekker and Mark Howard led to a 1-1 draw. In 2013, goals from Taylor Morgan, Terry Dunfield, and Jonathan Osorio led to a 3-0 TFC win, and in 2012 Miguel Aceval and Torsten Frings goals responded to John Rooney and Kevin Molino strikes in a 2-2 draw. In their first-ever meeting in 2011 an Ian Fuller goal was enough for Orlando to take the 1-0 victory.
So Toronto is unbeaten in four, sort of.
And hey, Orlando does their own Know The Enemy segments, which are worth a read – always interesting to hear what the opponent thinks of TFC.