There are only five matches left in the regular season and Orlando City finds itself in a familiar position on the wrong side of the red line. The loss to the Columbus Crew last weekend put OCSC in a difficult position as the Lions have drifted back into eighth place. Given Orlando’s recent form, it may need some outside help if the club is going to make a debut appearance in the playoffs.
The picture is getting clearer with every passing week. Toronto FC and the New York clubs are comfortably ahead of the pack and, barring a disastrous collapse for the Lampard-less NYCFC, are likely to comfortably coast down the home stretch. In fact, they can all clinch a spot this weekend. Almost every team below those three, however, has a legitimate chance to make or miss the playoffs. We’ll take a look at the field and see just what Orlando City is up against in the final weeks of the regular season. Which teams ahead of them are most likely to drop points? Who is most likely to cause trouble for the Lions down the home stretch? We break down the teams still within striking distance of Orlando:
4. Philadelphia Union (41 Points)
Remaining Schedule: @ Toronto, @ New York Red Bulls, vs. Orlando City, vs. New York Red Bulls
The Union have been treading water since their hot start to the season but lately they’ve been sinking. They’ve gone 0-2-1 this month including a three-goal shellacking from the lowly Fire. It doesn’t help that they have one of the toughest end-of-season tests in the league, starting with a hot TFC squad looking to guarantee its second playoff appearance in club history and two matches with the Red Bulls, who are trying to lock down the top spot in the East. Philly has a seven-point lead on Orlando City, but Orlando has a game in hand and a somewhat easier run in. It seems absurd for the Union to drop out of the playoff spots entirely, but the threat is technically there. All in all, Orlando probably won’t be able to pass Philadelphia in the standings unless they can go on another winning streak akin to 2015 but a showdown in Chester next month will still be for three vital points.
5. Montreal Impact (38 Points)
Remaining Schedule: @ New York, vs. San Jose, @ Orlando City, vs. Toronto, @ New England
It’s no secret that the Impact are waning. Even with Didier Drogba bagging goals, Montreal has one win in its last seven matches. The defense has seemingly capitulated, allowing eight goals in their three games in September and if Laurent Ciman can’t right the ship, the Quebecois side will likely be on the outside looking in at the end of October. It doesn’t help that they have three of the best attacking teams in the East left on the docket in New York, Toronto, and New England. But they also get another chance at OCSC at Camping World Stadium after the Lions dominated them 4-1 earlier this month. Orlando is very much within touching distance of Montreal - only four points behind - and the head-to-head match is important for the Lions in what could be a six point swing. They’ll still need help from elsewhere to catch up, but Montreal is very capable of dropping quite a few points. Of the teams currently above the red line, l’Impact seems the likeliest to drop out.
6. New England Revolution (36 Points)
Remaining Schedule: @ Columbus, vs. Sporting KC, @ Chicago, vs. Montreal
The Revs are on a serious rampage through the league since September started. Jay Heaps made the switch to a 4-4-2 diamond and it’s paying dividends. New England is 3-0-0 in the league this month after defeating Colorado, New York City, and Montreal by a combined score of 8-3. The way they’re tearing apart some of the top teams in the league is disconcerting for Lions fans when the Revolution are sitting ahead of them in the table, especially given their relatively easy remaining schedule. Unless the Crew’s victory over Orlando has turned their season around and Chicago is committed to playing spoiler, it will be hard to unseat the Revs. The only things going for Orlando here are the fact that City has a game in hand, currently wins the goal differential tiebreaker by a sizable margin, and doesn’t have to play New England again. Even that goal differential tiebreaker doesn’t even come into effect if Orlando can get level on wins, though, and they’re behind by two. But New England could be helpful to Orlando with a home showdown against Montreal. The Revs winning out may be unlikely, but they should take points off of every competitor.
7. D.C. United (34 Points)
Remaining Schedule: vs. Orlando City, vs. Columbus, @ Toronto, vs. New York City, @ Orlando City
D.C. has been in lockstep with OCSC for the last few weeks it seems, leading the Lions due to one tiebreaker or another. Luckily, Orlando has full control over whether or not it finishes ahead of United with two head-to-head contests in the final days, the first of which is this weekend. The problem for OCSC is that jumping D.C. is just the first hurdle. The possibility is there that the Lions could beat United twice and still finish seventh. D.C. also gets Columbus at home and NYCFC potentially without Lampard, which makes their schedule slightly more palatable than Orlando’s, so the Lions can’t afford to settle for draws either as it would likely doom both clubs’ chances.
So what does all of this mean for Orlando City?
OCSC’s remaining schedule is undoubtedly difficult with all of their match-ups against teams still in the hunt. They lost their most-winnable game left on paper against Columbus on Saturday night. The good news is that the Lions still get two shots to take points off of D.C. United and another shot to knock Montreal down a peg, and this time it’s at home. Those are the two teams most likely to be in Orlando’s way at the end of the season. They’ll get some help if New England continues to go through teams like a buzz saw through wood, because that means they’ll have to go through Montreal again.
The biggest question mark for the Lions is the showdown in Toronto next week when they can’t afford to drop many points. Asking Orlando City to take 10 points from its final five matches is a lot, but it might need more to keep pace with New England. It will be a rocky five weeks for City, but the Lions have still got most of their destiny left in their hands.