At this point it defies logic, but the following two statements are both true: 1) Orlando City B has gone without a win in eight straight games, and 2) if Orlando City B wins tonight, the young Lions will make the USL Eastern Conference playoffs.
That is the backdrop for tonight's final regular season contest for the young Lions of Orlando City B (8-13-8, 32 points), who take on Bethlehem Steel (6-13-10, 28 points) today at 3 p.m. in Pennsylvania in a game that means everything for the visitors and nothing for the home standing Steel. The necessary results are simple: if the Lions win, they're in. Lose or tie and they're out. There have never been clearer or more definitive stakes for this young team, and if it can end this streak it would easily be the biggest win in OCB's short history.
Last night the Wilmington Hammerheads beat the Richmond Kickers, 2-0, to at least give themselves the opportunity to make it to the playoffs in their last year in North Carolina before reportedly moving to Baltimore. The win put the Hammerheads two points ahead of OCB for the eighth spot in the East, and set up this showdown with Bethlehem.
OCB and Bethlehem have played once in 2016, a 2-2 draw in Melbourne way back on May 7. The stakes are a little different this time, but the game plan should again focus on young speedster Eric Ayuk, who has made a few appearances for the Union in MLS and is as dangerous a character as they come at this level.
Former USMNT player and Philly star Maurice Edu could see action in today's game as he is on a rehab assignment with the Union's USL affiliate following a stress fracture to his leg that has kept him out of action for this entire season. Edu played 59 minutes in Bethlehem's last game, a 1-1 draw with Harrisburg, and would be making his fourth USL appearance today, should he play. Meanwhile, Orlando City has reportedly loaned center back Tommy Redding to OCB for this match.
Bethlehem comes into this one having won two of four, with a loss and a draw sandwiched in between, so if it comes down to form, the young Lions would not be the favorites. But, considering the stakes, this one is anyone's game.
Last Week's Lineups
OCB: Ridgers; Turner, Hayden, Donovan, McFadden; Heath, Neal, Mendoza, Ribeiro, Da Silva; Cox
Bethlehem: Jones; Bibbs, Trusty, Washington; Edu, Jones, Chambers; Ayuk, Restrepo, Burke
Keys to Success
- JUST WIN BABY!: Today's team talk from Anthony Pulis should be a short and, considering the stakes, powerful one. This is the biggest game in most of these players' lives, and effort shouldn't be in question. Play smart, limit your mistakes, get the ball to Michael Cox, remember that you've got a strong goalkeeper behind you, and go out and do your best against a team with nothing at stake.