At first glance, last weekend’s game between Sky Blue and Orlando seems like the kind of mess that changes nothing but the standings. Both teams scored goals on penalty kicks awarded for handballs in the box, and the difference-maker for Orlando was a Sky Blue own goal in the 80th minute.
In spite of that, this was a big game for Orlando, and the underlying statistics of those 90 minutes might hold the key to how they can gain some ground.
The fact is, Orlando was outshot on Saturday. They only had two shots on target to Sky Blue’s 4, and when you add in the number of shots off-target the gap grows. Looking at shots alone you would think that Sky Blue would have won, or at least ‘deserved’ to win, since Orlando wasn’t creating much offense in general but especially not in the second half of the game. I mentioned previously that Orlando needs to step it up in terms of their passing and finishing if they want to win games, and that remains true. Compare the two team’s successful passes:
Orlando’s is certainly lopsided in comparison to Sky Blue’s, and Sky Blue’s pure volume is higher, too. These are issues that Orlando needs to address if they want to move forward. If they do, games against teams like Sky Blue could easily be more comfortable wins, because their defensive play was solid this weekend.
It starts, of course, with Haley Kopmeyer’s Save of the Week:
Kopmeyer’s big save in the second half of the game, while Sky Blue ramped up the pressure and Orlando struggled to get anything going offensively, gave her team a chance to stay in the game. In front of her, Orlando was playing better defensively than Sky Blue was, which allowed them to outlast the pressure of Sky Blue’s offense.
Orlando won 14 tackles to Sky Blue’s 11. Three of Orlando’s won tackles were courtesy of Marisa Viggiano, who also caused the chaos leading to the game-winning Sky Blue own goal.
Winning more tackles allowed Orlando to break up the Sky Blue attack, which smooths over the discrepancy between the two teams’ passing. After this game, assuming Orlando can continue on this track, the team’s tackle success rate could approach 60%.
Orlando also had more interceptions, and drew fourteen fouls while conceding only eight. The ability to draw fouls in the run of play is paramount against teams whose passing game exceeds Orlando’s, because disrupting the flow of a passing team’s game is one of the best ways, besides interceptions, to change the momentum.
Finally, compare the map of Orlando’s clearances to Sky Blue’s (where Sky Blue is the blue triangles):
Sky Blue’s fourteen off-target shots are partially a result of the pressure coming from Orlando’s strong defensive play. Beating a team that can out-pass and out-shoot them is only possible behind this kind of performance, but against a team other than Sky Blue, it probably won’t be enough.
Half of the puzzle is falling into place for Orlando, but without the ability to get their offense going, good defense alone won’t be enough to beat the teams at the top of the table.