Odisha FC season review: A season of comebacks and new milestones
Once labelled 'the Comeback kings" the Juggernauts rode on grit, motivation, and perseverance to finish in the playoffs for the first time in the club's history. After a good start to the league campaign in the Hero Indian Super League (ISL) 2022-23, Josep Gombau's men went on a rollercoaster of a season which saw them book a place in the top six.
With the return of Gombau in the Odisha camp, the side looked a completely different side and were known for their sheer attacking display with young and talented players at the disposal. In the 2022-23 season, Odisha FC had the expertise of the league's Golden Boot winner in Diego Mauricio who netted 12 goals in 21 matches.
The Kalinga Warriors may have fallen short in the latter half of the season but a campaign full of character, fightbacks, and display of passion brought the club to new heights to match the league's top teams. A sixth-place finish that saw the side securing nine wins - highest in the club's history, Odisha FC would give hope to their fans for a brighter future ahead.
PL: 21 W: 9 D: 3 L: 9 GF: 30 GA: 32
After a bright start to the season with six victories in the first ten matches, things took an unexpected turn with the team only managing three wins in the following ten matches. The Juggernauts slid from the top end of the Hero ISL points table to the bottom end as the playoff dream looked distant.
Going through a four-game winless streak, an impeccable performance against second-placed Hyderabad FC followed by a victory against NorthEast United FC pushed the Juggernauts closer to a top-six finish. Odisha FC lost the last fixture at a crucial juncture but made it to the playoffs by the virtue of FC Goa failing to capitalize on the Juggernauts' shortcomings.
This is what it means for @OdishaFC! 💜 (1/2)#OFCHFC #HeroISL #LetsFootball #OdishaFC pic.twitter.com/i7H1YoRbAI— Indian Super League (@IndSuperLeague) February 10, 2023
One of the most important reasons for Odisha FC's top-six finish is the team's ability to outscore the opponents. The Juggernauts conceded more goals than they have scored but the attacking mindset of the team ensured comebacks on numerous occasions. To the testimony of their comeback performances, Odisha FC won five matches after conceding first.
A unique characteristic of Gombau's men was their ability to draw strength from their home crowd. In front of their supporters at the Kalinga Stadium, the Juggernauts secured six of their nine victories of the season, making it a fortress.
Another positive for Gombau's team was the goal-scoring abilities displayed by Diego Mauricio and Nandhakumar Sekar. The attacking duo scored 18 out of 30 goals this season. The Brazilian striker finished the season with the Hero Golden Boot (12 goals in 21 games) even after playing two fewer games than the competitors.
The inconsistency was the biggest negative for the Juggernauts in the season. The team displayed an expensive brand of football but failed to sustain it for prolonged periods of time. Consecutive victories were marked by winless streaks which broke the team's momentum and Odisha FC would surely want to work on it in the next season.
While they rode high on their home momentum, on the road the side were unable to maintain their track record of quality performances. Out of 10 away games, Gombau's men registered just three wins, one draw, and six losses. In five of those losses, the side failed to find the back of the net thereby showing their inability to replicate their home form.
The Brazilian striker rejoined Odisha FC after a stint with Mumbai City FC in the previous season, and the match between both parties flowered brilliantly. Mauricio took on the baton from the first match of the season itself, scoring two goals against Jamshedpur FC as he continued to score past various defences in the league to lead the goalscoring charts.
The 31-year-old scored 12 goals while setting up four assists in the process. Mauricio was not only leading with his goals but also captained a young team to lead the club to their first-ever playoff finish. His experience and leadership skills were applauded by Gombau throughout the season and the Brazilian was a critical part of the team's mindset and performances on the field.
Best Young Player
The 21-year-old is the new emergence of the season for Odisha FC. The young forward appeared 10 times for the Juggernauts and scored two goals while registering two assists to his name as well.
Isak added creativity and pace to Odisha FC's attacks and he also displayed his calmness under pressure in several 1v1 situations. The forward has a knack for creating goals with nine chances created in 10 appearances in the league. Odisha FC would be hoping to see the next stage of Isak's potential and the following season he'll be playing a much more important role in the team.
What do they need next season?
Odisha FC would look to do one better in the next season after the club's highest-ever finish in Hero ISL. The Juggernauts would look on to build a diverse squad to have multiple goal scorers for the team and to maintain a consistent form throughout the season to keep the team focused and embark on a tight grip in the league standings. Another aspect for the club to focus on is to solidify the team’s defence.