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Tactics Tuesday: The Friday Edition

Isolated fullbacks, an outclassed midfield and counter-attacking without purpose or vision (yet again) – and that was just the second half.

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Having now played sixteen league matches in the 2015 season, an obvious precedent has been set and a (disturbing) pattern has emerged: Mastroeni’s tactical preference is a Mourinho-esque defensively prioritized setup that minimizes individual errors (while simultaneously stifling most individual creativity) and makes scoring difficult. There’s a systematic failure to consistently produce goals from the run of play, which is exactly why Mastroeni has begun harping on set pieces and the Rapids inability to produce goals from them.

Wednesday was no different, as the Rapids, after a strong opening half, conceded two quick goals (while a would-be third hit the post and somehow stayed out) while offering little by way of an offensive threat. Sure, Luis Solignac shot straight at Hall on an early one-on-one, but largely, the final third remained the ever barren desert the Rapids have consistently wandered in under Mastroeni.

On Wednesday night, Colorado started and played most of the match in a 4-4-1-1, with Doyle naturally inclined to the role of the second forward rather than a midfield #10 like his counterpart, Kaka (more on that later). Doyle’s presence forced Powers out to the left, which combined with Serna’s preference to cut in on his left foot, left Colorado with very little natural width going forward. The starting eleven ultimately proved a tactical mistake as Doyle offered little in possession through the middle and did even less to upset Orlando’s technical advantage in central midfield.

Orlando City played in a very fluid 4-2-3-1 that often played narrower than that in the first half on account of Brek Shea playing more like an outside forward than a wide-winger. In central midfield, it was Christian Higuita and Darwin Ceren running the show. Both players provided a strong base for Orlando to build play from, making it difficult for Colorado’s press to slow that initial phase of play. With Higuita and Ceren commanding the middle, Orlando City’s fullbacks, Luke Boden and Rafael Ramos, were afforded the support needed to move forward, and Boden especially took up an advanced wide position, allowing the Lions a makeshift winger when Shea moved inside.

And then of course, Kaka. Now eight years removed from the Brazilian’s Ballon D’Or victory in 2007, Kaka – at least at this level – remains ever capable of pulling strings, finding space and ultimately scoring goals. Going into the match, multiple Rapids players and coaches talked about the importance of minimizing space between the lines, of denying Kaka that room between the central midfielders and the defensive line and yet Kaka lived in that space on Wednesday, further demonstrating just how difficult it is to stop the game’s great players.

Kaka finished the match with 55 completed passes, with a staggering 46 of those in the offensive half. And while he obviously preferred to work from the right, his passing chart shows he could affect play from the left as well.

Kaka's Passing Chart

Orlando City manager, Adrian Heath, was forced into an always earlier than preferred first half change as Shea was unable to play through his previously un-disclosed leg injury. It was that substitution (Shea off, Carlos Rivas on) that really upset Colorado’s defensive structure and solidity as right-back, Joseph Greenspan, struggled to adapt to Rivas’ pace.

In the still below, you’ll see Greenspan isolated in space on the right against Rivas (who had been found by a delightful cross-field ball by Ceren) and struggled to mark his run, ultimately allowing a cross in which was defended by Drew Moor.

Rivas vs Greenspan 1

Fifteen minutes later, Rivas again found himself in possession out on the right, but as you can see, this time Greenspan had defensive support from Dillon Serna.

Greenspan vs Rivas, Serna Supporting

The fullback’s (Greenspan) responsibility here, is to usher the opponent back to the supporting forward (Serna), forcing the ball to be recycled back, either to a fullback (Boden), a center-back (St. Ledger) or the goalkeeper (Hall). Defending the byline is critical, because in this specific scenario, it’s the only area on the pitch that represents the possible danger area. Rivas, using his lightning first step, beat Greenspan down the line and bent a perfect cross to Cyle Larin, whose one touch finish left Clint Irwin no chance.

I’m not privy to any touchline instruction Mastroeni may have given Serna, but the difference in the forward’s position on those two crosses is telling. Colorado survived the first isolated Rivas cross, made a tactical adjustment (either from the manager or the player) and corrected the defensive scenario – which, in perfect accordance to the 2015 Colorado Rapids season, still cost a goal and all three points.