MLS Tactical Analysis: Toronto FC vs Orlando City 2:1

Toronto FC

  1. Bono / 96. Auro, 15. Zavaleta, 23. Mavinga, 9. Van der Wiel / 14. Champan, 4. Bradley, 21. Osorio, 54. Telfer / 7. Vazquez / 22. Hamilton


Orlando City

  1. Bendik / 4. Johnson, 22. Sane, 3. Tarek, 13. El-Monir / 20. Rosell, 7. Higuita / 17. Mueller, 16. Kljestan, 9. Meram / 29. Pinho


Toronto’s impressive offensive structure overwhelmed the visitor in the first half. However, as Orlando regained the control of the game in the second half, its commitment to the attack exposed its defensive flaw.

Toronto’s multiple ways to open Orlando’s defense

Toronto FC started in a 4-4-1-1 but morphed into a 3-4-3 when they attacked.




Michael Bradley dropped between the center backs and pushed the fullbacks to the midfield. Auro and Gregory van der Wiel hogged the sideline to provide the width. Bradley was their playmaker. Toronto FC needed his passing range to distribute the ball between the flanks to take full advantage of the horizontal space. That ability to utilize the width laid the foundation for Toronto FC to punctuate Orlando’s defense and dictated the tempo. They sometimes switched to a 3-5-2. Auro or Gregory van der Wiel dropped back with the center backs to form a three-man back line. Jonathan Osorio, who has great pace and technique, would attack the left flank when van der Wiel moved back.

Toronto FC had multiple ways to attack when the ball reached the flank; they could isolate their fullbacks, especially Auro, against Orlando’s defender. Jay Chapman and Ryan Telfer played as the inverted wingers in the offensive phase. When they moved inside they dragged Mohamed El-Monir and Will Johnson away from their positions. Justin Meram and Chris Mueller then needed to defend Toronto’s fullbacks in a 1 vs. 1 scenario. Toronto usually attacked with Auro. He has an excellent ball-playing skill and can attack the center or the flank:



Toronto FC used many positional exchanges and plays to create space in myriad ways. Sometimes the fullback wasn’t the attacking focus. Instead, his run toward the byline occupied the opponent’s fullback and stopped them from coming out of the last defensive line. The inverted winger could then pop out of the line to receive the ball without much pressure.

Toronto’s players positioned wide, but not always deep. When El-Monir came out to confront them, Chapman would move into the area El-Monir vacated:



He could attack that space if he received the ball, or he could also drag yet another defender away from the defensive position and allowed another Toronto’s player to attack that newly created space. Orlando struggled to defend Toronto’s automatic positional play.

Just like a run could be a plot to confuse the defenders, Toronto FC also used their fullbacks’ wide positions and movements to stretch Orlando’s defense. All those positional plays on the wing and Bradley’s efficient distribution meant that Orlando City needed to deploy many defenders on both sides at any time. This way Toronto FC opened the middle area for Jordan Hamilton, Victor Vazquez, Osorio, and the inverted winger from the ball far side to attack.

The host received limited resistance during the build-up in the first half. Orlando City didn’t try to pressure Toronto’s center backs or Bradley. They intended to sit deep and defend all the zones. However, that strategy allowed Toronto’s players to move into the attacking positions. The passer had time to find the receiver, and the receiver also had the freedom to free himself from the marker. Their passive attitude meant Orlando City needed to suffer a tremendous amount of pressure in the first half.

Toronto’s high pressure disrupted Orlando’s offense

Toronto had great success in attacking Orlando’s transition; the visitor struggled to build up its offensive phase in the first half. The host often regained the possession in the midfield and prevented Orlando from entering the offensive phase.

Toronto’s midfielders confronted Orlando’s build-up early; they pushed high to limit the ball’s handler’s passing angle. The visitor struggled to attack the right flank. Johnson and Mueller didn’t have the technique to turn and dribble past the defender. Mueller often drifted inside without considering if Johnson had enough support to advance the ball. Toronto’s pressure only allowed Johnson to receive the ball in the midfield before the half-line. van der Wiel and Telfer were always ready to close him down. Without a viable pass target in front of him, he often returned the ball to the center back or the defensive midfielder. Orlando could only attack the left flank, where El-Monir had the skill to dribble and surge forward. Marem also dropped to the midfield to combine with him. However, the lack of a balanced attack meant Toronto FC could often jam the ball-playing side.

Orlando City could create several opportunities in the first half when they managed to hit Toronto’s weaknesses; although they contended to sit deep and didn’t pressure Toronto ’s build-up, Orlando City had a lightning switch between the defensive and offensive phases. Whenever they intercepted the ball, they could counter-attack before the host could move back to the defensive shape.



Toronto FC took a risk when they held a high confrontation line; their deepest defensive midfielder, Bradley, wasn’t physical and defensively aware. If Orlando’s players got past the initial wave of pressing, they could often bypass Bradley. They could also out-muscle him in a lot of 50-50 duels.

Orlando’s offensive phase survived in the first half thanks to these openings.

Second half tactical changes

Orlando took back the control of the game with a tactical change and Toronto’s inability to maintain the defensive pressure.

Jason Kreis must have felt that his team conceded too much control in the first half. The lack of a defensive confrontation to Toronto’s build-up meant the host could dictate the tempo and create massive pressure to the visitor. Orlando City became aggressive in the second half. They often confronted the ball handler, especially Bradley, as soon as he received the ball. The high pressure forced Toronto to lose the ball on multiple occasions during the build-up, and Orlando City could initiate the attack in dangerous areas:



The early closedown also prevented Toronto from finding the best passing lane when they attacked. It affected the host in both ends of a pass. The passer didn’t have the freedom to find the pass receiver, and the receiver didn’t have the time to move into a position and facilitate an optimal passing lane. Every pass is slightly off compared to that in the first half. They were either a tenth of a second slower or a few inches farther. These small deviations had a butterfly effect on Toronto’ attack; Toronto FC thrived in the first half because of their synchronized positional plays. However, when Orlando increased the defensive pressure in the second half, Toronto’s player couldn’t attack right after a pass. He had to adjust to control the ball, and he couldn’t immediately attack a gap created by his teammate. Toronto’s ball movement didn’t gain enough speed on the flank, and Orlando City could find time to delay its progression and prevented the host from circulating the ball horizontally. Without efficiently switching between the flanks, Toronto FC also failed to open the space in the middle.





(Toronto couldn’t access the zone14 in the second half)

Orlando City also got some breathing rooms in the second half when Toronto FC stopped their high-pressure pressing. They could now build up properly:


Orlando City1256529-h1.jpg


Orlando City1256529-h2.jpg

(Orlando’s offense is more balanced in the second half. Controlling the flanks means opening the center.) 

Oriol Rosell and Cristian Higuita now had freedom when they received the ball. They could wait for the teammates to move up when they attacked, and they had time to assess the passing lane. Orlando City could now balance their attack. For the first time, Johnson was able to attack the right flank. The coin was now flipped; Orlando could open the area in the center, and they controlled more possession and created more chances from the build-up. They took back the control of the game.

The goals came against the run of the play; as Orlando City took back the control of the game, they committed more players in the offensive phase than before. Their defensive weakness also became apparent once they stopped sitting deep. Toronto FC created fewer but better chances in the second half compared to the first. They scored two goals following Orlando’s mistakes.

Albeit taking three points home, Toronto failed to convert its dominance into goals. It also failed to maintain the control of the game. These problems don’t bode well for its title defense.

Orlando has a worse problem than Toronto; it lost the game at the time when it played well. How can you fix such a problem?


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