Orlando City's margin for error is gone. After dropping two points at home to the last-place Philadelphia Union on Saturday night, the Lions have to maximize points from here on out if they are to reach the club's stated goal of making the playoffs in their expansion season.
With 10 matches remaining in the season and Orlando City mired in seventh place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference. The Lions are tied on points with sixth-place Montreal, but the Impact have a better goal differential (-2 as opposed to Orlando's -5), with three games in hand and the addition of striker Didier Drogba to boost the club.
Passing Montreal may prove too difficult. City may be better served trying to catch New England Revolution, who are three points ahead on the same number of matches, with one meeting remaining in the regular season.
Getting results from other teams may be necessary without any remaining wiggle room in the playoff race, but goalkeeper Tally Hall said after Tuesday's training that the Lions must rely on themselves first and foremost.
"If the car breaks down in front of us, we're going to move up in spots and not feel bad for anything," he said. "We're looking at results from other teams and at the same time, we know that it's down to us and how we perform, and putting the right effort, the right mentality and the right performances on the field, because it's the toughest time of the year. Everything's on the line. Every game's important...Everything's critical."
Here's a look at the club's remaining fixtures:
- Aug. 16: at Seattle Sounders
- Aug. 22: at Toronto FC
- Aug. 29: vs. Chicago Fire
- Sept. 5: at New England Revolution
- Sept. 13: vs. Sporting Kansas City
- Sept. 19: at Chicago Fire
- Sept. 25: at New York Red Bulls
- Oct. 3: vs. Montreal Impact
- Oct. 16: vs. New York City FC
- Oct. 25: at Philadelphia Union
Winning at Seattle or Red Bull Arena or getting three points against a very good Sporting KC side may be a tall order. So, Orlando City must get results against Toronto, Chicago (twice), New England, Montreal, New York City FC and Philadelphia to maximize the chance of seeing the postseason. The New England match is a must-win and so are the games against those teams below the playoff line -- Chicago, NYCFC and Philadelphia.
In order to get the same results the Lions were getting during June, they have to get back to basics. Head Coach Adrian Heath worked on basic defending with newcomers Adrian Winter and David Mateos on Tuesday. Defensive work was much needed since the team conceded 18 goals in a six-game span recently, which ended with Saturday's clean sheet against the Union. It was the team's first shutout since June against Colorado.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia also kept a clean sheet.
Orlando City isn't a high scoring team, so it's crucial for the club to limit the opposition's chances to score, in order to maximize points the way they did starting with the LA Galaxy match back in May. The Lions went 3-0-2 in a five-game span by allowing five goals over that period. City is a squad built with enough offense to deal with conceding once per game. Very few clubs can overcome three goals against every outing.
Hence, the team needs to concentrate on defending.
"We're focusing on our defensive shape," Hall said. "It hasn't been good enough and we've been conceding too much. So that being a priority to us down the stretch is going to be vital to us advancing."
That focus will be tested Sunday in Seattle, as the Sounders expect the return of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey to the lineup.