As bad as things have been for Orlando City in recent months--just a single win and six losses over the last eight MLS matches--the Lions still find themselves with a chance at qualifying for the postseason, even if that chance looks increasingly unlikely with each passing match.
While the Lions offense has not been setting the world on fire with only nine goals scored during that stretch, the OCSC defense has been more than a bit leaky throughout that same span, letting in 24 goals. In their last four MLS road games, City have conceded 16 goals, including five-goal performances from New York City FC and Toronto FC.
As the regular season draws nearer to its conclusion and the race for the sixth and final playoff spot intensifies, we look at how Orlando City's goals allowed number compares to other sixth-place sides in recent MLS history.
The league first expanded its schedule to 34 games in 2011, so that is where we will start our comparison. While this is the first season that six teams from each conference will qualify for the playoffs, we can accurately compare the number of goals allowed during the past four seasons given that the number of games on the schedule this season remains 34.
Chicago finished in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference in '11, conceding 45 goals in the process. Columbus followed that up in 2012 with 44 goals allowed en route to a sixth-place finish, before Chicago once again occupied that spot in 2013 with 53 conceded. Last season, Philadelphia ended the season in sixth with 51 goals allowed.
The average number of goals allowed for the sixth-place side in the East based on these seasons is 48. League wide, when factoring in the Western Conference numbers, the average number of goals allowed by sixth-place teams isn't much different, sitting at just over 47 per season.
As it currently stands, Orlando City are on the brink of this threshold, having let in 46 goals through 26 matches, so it would be quite a stretch to argue that Orlando City will finish either at or below 48 goals.
A caveat that must be mentioned in the Lions' case is that they have played more minutes (311) this season in the league at a disadvantage than any other team, a product of their league-high nine red cards. Out of their 46 goals allowed, 12 have come while playing a man (or two) down, including eight of the nine scores the Lions conceded in their last two matches at Seattle and Toronto.
Despite their red card plague, however, the Lions should not be allowing four- and five-goal performances even while playing a man down. Orlando has only allowed more than three goals in two matches that it finished with a full 11 men, but those were recent matches at NYC and Toronto, further illustrating the downward trend.
A bit of good news is that NYCFC, which is also still clinging to hopes of stealing the sixth playoff spot, are experiencing similar troubles at the back, having let in 44 goals, including five in a drubbing at LA Galaxy last Sunday. The current sixth-place team, Montréal Impact, have only allowed 29 goals but have played three fewer matches. Even still, their goals allowed per game number of 1.45 easily beats that of Orlando's 1.77.
Injuries have not helped Orlando City's cause at all, but if there is any hope of competing for the sixth spot in the East, the Lions will have to stop letting in so many goals while also finding a way to generate more of their own (Captain Obvious, I know). With matches remaining against high-scoring teams like new York Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City, this is especially true, not to mention crucial home matches against fellow playoff contenders NYCFC and Montréal.
History seems to be against Orlando City, but, closing out the regular season with a string of solid performances and some clean sheets could propel the Lions into the postseason.