Li­ons try to put new plan in play

Orlando Sentinel - - SPORTS SUNDAY - By Jor­dan Cul­ver Pro Soc­cer USA

For starters, that means bet­ter de­fense

Coach James O’Con­nor has been at the helm of Or­lando City for six league matches.

Dur­ing those matches, the Li­ons have gone 1-4-1 (4 points). The Li­ons’ at­tack has been solid enough, but the de­fend­ing has been woe­ful at times.

It takes time to im­ple­ment new ideas, and O’Con­nor was hired in the mid­dle of the sum­mer, with the Li­ons mired in a fran­chise-record los­ing streak. But O’Con­nor wants to win, and Or­lando City still has a shot — slim though it may be — to make the play­offs.

O’Con­nor said Or­lando City isn’t quite where he wants it to be in terms of how he’d like to see the club play­ing. The Li­ons (7-14-2, 23 points) have another op­por­tu­nity to put O’Con­nor’s plans into prac­tice with a match against D.C. United (4-9-6, 18 points) at Audi Field tonight.

“I think we’re get­ting closer,” O’Con­nor said. “I think we’ve had per­for­mances where there’s been as­pects of it. I think we can come away think, ‘OK, we’re en­cour­aged with that.’ There’s still ar­eas where we think we need to get bet­ter. I

def­i­nitely think we’re get­ting closer, but I still think there’s a few more lay­ers and we can get to ex­actly where we want to be.”

The ob­vi­ous area Or­lando City needs to fix is the de­fense. The Li­ons have given up 12 goals over a four-match win­less streak. Twice in that span the club has given up a late goal, and last week against New Eng­land, the Li­ons gave up two early goals and had to claw their way back to sal­vage a draw at home.

Or­lando City has con­ceded a league-high 54 goals so far this sea­son. As of Sat­ur­day morn­ing, the Li­ons are the only group to have given up at least 50 goals in MLS play this sea­son. The club’s goal dif­fer­en­tial is -19.

“I think peo­ple just look at just the de­fend­ers,” O’Con­nor said. “I think for all of us, I think when you look at it, you know, we’re very ca­pa­ble of scor­ing goals, so I think the log­i­cal thing is to stop con­ced­ing them. That’s the big­gest thing.

“I think when you look at our goals against, there’s way too many. That’s some­thing that we need to be way more in­ten­tional about try­ing to un­der­stand and im­ple­ment and stop that. I think we’ve def­i­nitely got a ca­pac­ity to score goals. I think, at times, our play go­ing for­ward has been ex­cel­lent. We need to be a lit­tle bit more con­sis­tent.

“There’s loads of en­cour­ag­ing signs; it’s now just a case of bring­ing it all to­gether and try­ing to be a lit­tle bit stronger in keep­ing the ball out of the back of the net.”

With the sea­son wind­ing down, play­ers are also try­ing to quickly grasp and im­ple­ment what O’Con­nor wants to do. Rookie striker Chris Mueller agreed with his coach and said the Li­ons are im­prov­ing but are still lack­ing in cer­tain ar­eas.

He added Or­lando City’s de­fen­sive woes are “ob­vi­ous.”

“We’re go­ing to sort those prob­lems out, but other than that, you see it in the games, we’re cre­at­ing a lot of chances,” he said. “We’re scor­ing a lot of goals, so we want to con­tinue to do that, but also clean up the other end of the pitch.”

De­fen­sive mid­fielder Cris­tian Hi­gu­ita said he’s seen im­prove­ment but — like just about ev­ery­one in­volved with the club — thinks the Li­ons’ de­fense needs to im­prove.

“We’re ac­quir­ing an idea,” he said through a trans­la­tor. “We still have a long way to go, but I think, step by step, we’re get­ting where [O’Con­nor] wants us to be.”

O’Con­nor said he wants the Li­ons’ de­fense to click in the same way its at­tack has in re­cent matches.

“The first line of de­fense starts with the striker. Equally, with how we’re start­ing to at­tack, the guy who scores gets all the credit, but a lot of times they start from the back, we start at­tack­ing with the goal­keeper, we’re try­ing to play out.

“I think, for us, it’s try­ing to get bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of de­fen­sive prin­ci­pals, ex­pec­ta­tions and then ex­e­cu­tion. They’re the three fac­tors that we need to cover and try to make sure we’re on point with. Hon­estly, [I’m] try­ing to make sure there’s bet­ter com­mu­ni­ca­tion from my­self to al­low for bet­ter un­der­stand­ing.”

O’Con­nor

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Goal­keeper Earl Ed­wards Jr. and the Li­ons have given up 12 goals dur­ing a four-match win­less streak.

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