Despite the fact that Orlando City B is a reserve side for the MLS club, the team seemed to have nearly clinched a playoff spot in its inaugural year. However, recent struggles have brought the young Lions' playoff drive down to the final day as they hang on by the slimmest of margins.
After a tough start to the 2016 USL season -- earning just one point in the first four games -- OCB steadily got better and in June seemed to hit its stride. Starting with a 2-1 win in Charleston on June 11, OCB rolled off a nine-game unbeaten streak, which featured four wins and five draws. The streak pulled the Lions out of the cellar and into the playoff discussion. But then things started to take a turn for the worse.
OCB finished off that nine-game streak by pulling off back-to-back wins against Louisville City FC away and Toronto FC II at home. It was only the second time this season that the Lions were able to accumulate two consecutive wins. But the loss of two key players started a miserable stretch that has led the Lions to where they currently sit.
In consecutive days, Aug. 3 and 4, Orlando City acquired the rights to defensive midfielder Tony Rocha and left back Mikey Ambrose from Sporting Kansas City and FC Dallas, respectively. The two had joined OCB during the off-season from the Austin Aztex. Both had become key parts of the starting OCB lineup but, though they were officially being signed, were essentially being called up to the senior team.
With the help of first-team players Tommy Redding and Cristian Higuita, OCB won the first game with the pair, defeating Toronto FC II, 2-1. But following that win, the team went on a two-game road trip that saw the Lions drop both games by a combined score of 9-1 against the New York Red Bulls II and Charlotte Independence.
After drawing the following game at home against the Richmond Kickers, OCB has now lost its last five, with the last one being Saturday night against FC Cincinnati. What seemed to be a commanding lead by the Lions for that final playoff spot has dwindled down to just one point over the Wilmington Hammerheads.
What this recent struggle has shown us is that, once again, while OCB wants to win games, the young Lions are first and foremost a reserve team. The loss of Rocha and Ambrose were catastrophic for the young Lions as the pair of 22-year-olds had been key contributors this season.
Certainly not helping the team keep its playoff position was the fact that star midfielder Pierre Da Silva was called up for international duty with the U.S. U-19 national team in Serbia. Without those three key players, OCB went into a tailspin from which the team has been unable to escape.
Next weekend, OCB will enter its final game of the season in Bethlehem, PA, taking on the Steel -- the reserve team of the Philadelphia Union. The Hammerheads, meanwhile, will return home to face the Richmond Kickers, a team that has already earned a spot in the postseason. With one game remaining in the season, OCB does have its fate in its own hands. But with the Lions' current form, anyone hoping for OCB to clinch a playoff berth might want to spend most of their energy hoping for a loss or draw for the Hammerheads, which would see the Lions sneak into that final playoff spot.