Last season, Orlando City ended the season at -10 on goal differential, and missed the playoffs. Being that close to a playoff spot, goal differential certainly could have become a major talking point at the end of the 2015 season.
Our friends at American Soccer Analytics recently did a study on this very thing.
We know the league's proud tradition of parity, but did you ever think that a mere four goals could increase a team's chances of making the playoffs by 75%? That apparently has been the case over the last four MLS seasons. The chart below shows the relationship between goals scored, goals conceded and probability of making the playoffs.
If a team's goal differential is below -6 (red triangle) there is no chance of making the playoffs, or at least it's a low enough probability that we haven't witnessed it yet. Playoff chances are just 13% between -3 and -6 (yellow band). No team has made the playoffs when allowing 58 or more goals either. But things start looking up after that. 57% of the teams make the playoffs with a goal difference between -2 and 0 (orange band). And if a team can grab just a slim one goal advantage they're basically a lock at 83% (blue band). Not surprisingly, teams with a goal difference of 10 or more have never failed to qualify (green triangle).
In 2015, Orlando City conceded 56 goals,and finished with a goal differential of -10, barely missing the playoffs. That lines up with the American Soccer Analytics findings. Last season, Orlando City was sitting at -4 on goal differential through nine games. Compare that to this season, where the Lions are +2 on goal differential through the first nine matches.
With 16 goals so far, Orlando City has scored twice as many goals in those games compared to last season. A year ago, Kaká had three goals, Cyle Larin had two, Pedro Ribeiro and Aurelien Collin had one each. There was also one own-goal. In 2016, the Lions are getting goals from more players and have two players that are tied for seventh in MLS, with Larin and Kevin Molino on four goals apiece.
As for the rest, Kaká and Adrian Winter have two goals apiece, Brek Shea, Carlos Rivas, and Seb Hines each have one goal. Orlando City has also benefited from an own-goal again this season.
Last season, Orlando City was blanked four times, while (so far) this season the Lions have scored at least one goal every game. The Lions are taking advantage of their opportunities, and we've seen that even when they fall behind they stay calm and continue to score goals. Experience, mental attitude, and an improved lineup are making a difference on the offensive side of the field.
On defense, the Lions have been worse than last season...barely. And that is despite the excellent goalkeeping from Joe Bendik. In 2015, the defense allowed 12 goals at this point, whereas in 2016 the Lions have allowed 14 into the back of the net. How much worse would it be without Bendik? Regardless, as we see from the graphic, if Orlando City can maintain its current goal differential, the odds of the team making the playoffs are good.
If Orlando City can maintain its offensive success, and shore up the defense, then the playoffs should be a foregone conclusion. Vamos Orlando!