Dreary, that could be the word for the season so far. Today the Lions take on New York City FC, which is sitting pretty, just two points behind the leaders of the East, the Philadelphia Union. NYCFC has done this while garnering wins on the road and honestly playing poorly at home, so perhaps Orlando has a chance to steal a few points on that barely legal soccer pitch in Yankee Stadium.
But, there is a realization that needs to occur for this Orlando team, one that many people may not like to hear, but an important one nonetheless.
Orlando will not make the playoffs. This, of course, depends on a few points that will be highlighted in this piece but, realistically, if the Lions continue this anemic display of draws -- having six so far in 2016 -- Orlando will be sitting at home after 34 games. The only other team with six or more draws in the Eastern Conference, New England (7), also happens sit outside playoff positioning as of this writing. This is troubling for a few reasons that I'll discuss below.
- To make the playoffs Orlando needs right around 49 points, preferably more, as over the last few years that has seemed to be the number for the sixth-place team in the conference and Orlando is not on that pace. They are currently earning 1.25 points per game and that over a 34-game season is 42.5 points. That's clearly a few shy of the 49-point target.
- Entering today, Orlando has played seven home matches, compared to five away. The issue here comes down to where Orlando is earning points. At home the Lions are unbeaten, with two wins and five draws, giving them 1.57 points per game at home. On the road it is a totally different story. Away from Camping World Stadium the Lions are earning at a 0.8 points-per-game rate. You read that right -- on the road Orlando is currently earning under a point per game, and if that trend continues it will be a disastrous showing on the season.
- This point may lead to some contention, but Orlando is letting in too many goals. Now, that could be an arbitrary argument when you have a positive goal differential, but when you have played a majority of the games at home and have been relatively healthy, many would expect a stingier defense. This is not a slight on Joe Bendik or a call to arms to have a change on the back line, but merely a point, that if Orlando hopes to start reaching for an MLS cup, it must become better defensively.
Most of these points talk about point earning and just playing better. Is that something a team can just turn on and off? Not really, but there is something that has seemed to be missing so far this season and has led Orlando to its current predicament: a lack of identity. Last week in the Sunday Statistical Showdown, we talked about how Orlando seems to be playing a different, more direct style of play than in 2015. The Lions are making more direct long passes towards goal and are losing the possession battle. This is coupled with a lack of high pressure by Orlando.
If this continues and the Lions find themselves in the same place, out of the playoffs, as they did in 2015, there may start to be grumblings for some changes. This year, we have already gone through, in some people's eyes, a tumultuous off-season; this may be in the future again for OCSC if the Lions do not start to understand who and what type of team they are and what kind of team they need to be to win.