Is there truly such a thing as home field advantage at the Citrus Bowl? Let's take a look at the elements behind the phenomenon and how it affected Orlando City's season.
The obvious factor for Orlando City would be the fans. The Lions had the second largest crowds, on average, in MLS this past season. When the supporters are jumping, dancing, singing, and chanting, there is going to be a psychological benefit for the home squad, and it will be a hostile environment for the visitors. This is true in any sport--in any city. The fact that Orlando City enjoyed such large crowds was certainly a factor in its success at home.
When you go to work at the same place everyday, you get to know the environment. You know, the important stuff...like, where your desk is, and where the bathroom and break room are located. The same would be true for a soccer team and its stadium or field. How do the groundskeepers cut the grass? Which direction does the wind blow, and how does the sun hit the field at different times of the day? These are all factors that need to be taken into account during a match. If you don't have to think about those things, you can focus on playing.
What's the saying? "It's not the heat, it's the humidity." When you live here, you notice it, but not nearly as much as someone who doesn't reside in the Sunshine State. When I've gone out West, I feel like a fish out of water. I'm drinking water constantly and can't walk five feet without applying lip balm to dry cracked lips. For those that aren't used to the humidity, it might feel like they're swimming. For those that live where it's usually cooler, the heat might seem oppressive. Our players from the other parts of the U.S., or other parts of the world, will have time--through training and general living--to become acclimated to the humidity. Opposing teams don't have that luxury.
"Sleeping in your own bed"
Travel can be exhausting. Even though professional soccer players travel all the time, there's still something about sleeping in your own bed; you get to keep your daily ritual. Coaches and players like the consistency that having a schedule provides, and any time you deviate from that schedule it is another stress that can affect on field performance.
While all of this sounds true, is it actually something else?
Involuntary bias of Officials
Supporters never feel that the officials are on their side, but according to the guys over at Freakonomics, home field advantage mainly comes down to involuntary bias on the part of the officials. In particular, the crowd noise is a major influence on their decisions. Despite the idea that the referees are supposed to be neutral, on some level they can't help but be influenced by the atmosphere during the match. Of course, that doesn't mean the other factors don't help.
So how did Orlando City do in home matches versus away matches? The Lions played 17 home matches and 17 away matches in its MLS schedule. Orlando City went 7-5-5 at home and 5-9-3 when away. OCSC definitely performed better at home, and its record isn't the only indicator of that. The Lions finished the year with a -10 goal differential; however, the goal differential at home was +6, and was -16 while away.
Whether you believe that any of the above home field advantage factors are real or not, you can't deny the numbers. Orlando City took advantage of playing at home in 2015.