When Saturday night's game between Orlando City and the Chicago Fire finally started, following a nearly two-hour delay, there was a noticeable difference in the team wearing purple.
August has been a very tough month for the Lions. After beginning the month with an impressive 5-2 win over the Columbus Crew, the Lions have lost three games away and drawn twice at home. A very noticeable and disappointing attribute about the team over those first four results was the lack of energy and spirit. That changed Saturday night.
When the two teams finally emerged from the tunnel to begin the game, the Lions showed incredible energy and determination. The players were fighting for every ball, something they failed to do over the previous four games. If a player lost the ball, he immediately worked to get it back.
Unfortunately, that momentum was halted just 18 minutes into play, when lightning caused a second delay -- this time lasting just over an hour. When the teams reemerged, the energy was gone. The Chicago Fire, which had been playing on their back foot and looking for the counter, took the game to the hosts and dominated large parts over the next 20 minutes, scoring a 30th minute goal by David Accam.
However, late in the first half, the energy seen in the first 18 minutes reappeared and the Lions began to take the game back to the visitors, starting with a 37th minute goal scored by Fire defender Eric Gehrig but caused by Orlando City striker Cyle Larin. They would go on to dominate possession throughout the second half, creating three golden scoring opportunities, which they were unable to put away.
Despite the disappointing result, Orlando City played with a fight that hasn't been seen in nearly a month. With seven league games remaining, the Lions sit one point ahead of New York City FC and the Montreal Impact for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, though Montreal has four games in hand on the expansion clubs. The bottom two teams, Chicago and Philadelphia, sit just two points behind that sixth spot.
With such a close race for the final playoff position, every game will be critical. Over the previous four games, Orlando City lacked the energy and spirit needed to win in MLS. That was especially the case in their games in Seattle and Toronto, where the team lost 4-0 and 5-0 and seemed to concede the game prior to the final whistle (albeit playing a man down for much of both matches).
Those two results, combined with a 4-1 loss in Toronto a week prior, have left the Lions with a -14 goal differential. That's the worst goal differential in MLS this season and is 10 goals worse than Montreal and six goals worse than NYCFC. It's a deficit which makes City's attempt at a playoff spot even more of an uphill battle.
Orlando City's defeated attitude seemed to change Saturday night. For the first time in nearly a month, the team showed vigor, as if they actually wanted to gain the three points. For the team to succeed and clinch that playoff berth that the club has talked about so frequently, they must continue with the attitude shown on that soggy night at the Citrus Bowl.