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Orlando City Preparing for Three-Game MLS Gauntlet

With the Ponte Preta friendly on deck tonight, Orlando City must take advantage of its bye week and emerge ready for battle as the Lions head into a three-match stretch that features New England, D.C. United and the LA Galaxy in a 10-day span.

Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

While tonight’s friendly against Brazilian side Ponte Preta provides an opportunity for Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath to give some of his younger players valuable game minutes, it will also be used as an opportunity to rest many of the Lions’ regular starters as they look ahead to next week’s match with the New England Revolution.

The timing of this bye week is favorable for OCSC, given the team’s recent struggles in a run that includes two shutout losses on the spin, as part of three losses in four games overall.

Players like Brek Shea and Kaká, in particular, stand to benefit from the 12-day break between Major League Soccer competition for Orlando. Kaká, who turned 33 on April 22, has gone the full 90 minutes in seven of City’s eight games this season, and he played a tough 82 minutes in Houston before being subbed off in the only match that he did not finish.

Shea’s 25-year-old legs have not logged nearly as much career mileage as those of his Brazilian counterpart, but he has been balancing his duties between Orlando and the USMNT, which has added significant travel to his schedule over the first two months of the season. In addition to the 630 minutes he’s registered for OCSC, Shea has traveled as far as Denmark with the national side and took a midweek detour to San Antonio to face Mexico in between Orlando City’s matches in Portland and Columbus.

While rest is imperative during the bye week, so too is the mental preparation for a team in a run of bad form readying for a schedule that features three matches against some of MLS’s best squads in a 10-day span.

The Lions will host the Revolution in their next match on Friday night, before traveling to the nation’s capital for round two against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on May 13. After D.C., Orlando will return home to host LA Galaxy just four days later on Sunday, May 17. Such a gauntlet of matches leaves little room for error, especially on the heels of a month in which the Lions took only three points from a possible 12.

New England and D.C. United currently sit first and second in the Eastern Conference table, respectively. The Revs have won four of the last five matches and are fresh off a 4-0 demolition of Real Salt Lake, while D.C. is unbeaten in its last five outings, after earning a point away on a cross-continental trip to Vancouver, which currently sits atop the Western Conference.

The Galaxy, which sits at No. 4 in MLS’s most recent power rankings, picked up a draw at undefeated NYRB last week, despite not having Robby Keane up top.

Safe to say it’s not the type of three-game slate you would like to see after losing consecutive games by a 5-0 aggregate tally. It does, however, provide a solid test for a team that needs to turn things around quickly.

The Lions will benefit in the long run from playing in the East, where the bottom half of the table looks considerably weaker than the West, but a poor showing over the next three games will put them behind the eight ball just one-third of the way through the season.

A solid run in those games, though, would provide a much needed boost of confidence. We’ve already seen Orlando outplay teams like D.C. and Vancouver, so whether or not they are capable of competing with these high-table teams is not in question. But one thing that has been lacking this season, even on some occasions when City has outplayed its opponent, is results to match the Lions’ level of play.

"We have a great bunch of guys and just have to stick together no matter what happens," said winger Kevin Molino following the Toronto defeat. "The most important thing is it’s very early in the season, so we still have chances to get points and we just need to keep fighting – fight to the end and see where it takes us."

That spirit will go a long way for the Lions, and a return to form could come at no better time than right now, before some of the league’s best sides come knocking.