Coming down the final stretch of the team’s inaugural season, Orlando City B had lost its last five games heading into Sunday's finale. Making matters worse was the fact that the Wilmington Hammerheads defeated the Richmond Kickers Saturday night, giving them a two-point lead on the Lions for that eighth and final spot in the USL's Eastern Conference. But, despite being outplayed by Bethlehem Steel FC for large parts of the game, OCB won 2-0, earning a ticket to the postseason.
Now that OCB has advanced to the playoffs, what is in store for the club? First off, the Lions enter the postseason as the lowest seed of all qualified teams. So, no matter how far they go, each of their games will be played away from home.
The Lions will start off their playoff campaign against New York Red Bulls II, who finished at the top of the Eastern Conference and with the most points of any team in the USL. OCB has played the Red Bulls’ second team twice this year, drawing one and losing the other. The draw came back on June 19 in Melbourne as the two sides each scored a pair. After going down 2-1 after the first 45 minutes, Pierre Da Silva equalized in the dying minutes to earn the Lions a point.
The return game came on August 12 in what was a humiliation for the visiting side. During a two-game road trip that saw the Lions outscored 9-1, the Red Bulls defeated the Lions, 5-1, with an impressive performance by Junior Flemmings. Heading back to Red Bull Arena, the Lions are looking to avoid a repeat performance.
Should the Lions shock the USL and defeat the Red Bulls, they would take on the winner of the Rochester Rhinos and Charlotte Independence. The Lions defeated both of these teams at home in back-to-back games by identical 2-1 scores back in May and drew both of teams in their first trip away to each opponent. Whats separates the two was the second trip to Charlotte. While the Lions only faced the Rhinos twice during the season, their third match-up against the Independence in Charlotte quickly turned into a nightmare, as they fell, 4-0. It was the back end of that two-game road trip that saw them outscored 9-1 overall.
If OCB were to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals, the other four teams that have qualified for the postseason are FC Cincinnati, the Charleston Battery, Louisville City FC, and the Richmond Kickers.
While OCB is the lowest seed in the league going into the postseason, it's not all bad for the young Lions. Of the five MLS reserve teams in the USL's Eastern Conference, only two qualified for the postseason, and one of those is OCB. In the Western Conference, there are six MLS reserve teams and three of those six qualified for the playoffs.
What does hurt OCB heading into the playoffs are the injuries suffered by the senior team. With a fully healthy squad, the young Lions would feature a list of MLS-signed players. However, considering that this is a developmental side and the MLS team comes first, some of OCB's key players may be called up to play a key role for the senior team as it fights for its own playoff spot. Right now, the squad is healthy, but we’ve seen this change quickly in the past.
The schedule for the USL playoffs starts right away with the quarterfinals being played next week. OCB faces NYRBII on Oct. 2. The rounds will then be played in consecutive weeks going forward throughout the the month of October, with the final being played Oct. 23. The final will be televised in prime time on ESPNU. If OCB is going to be on that nationally televised contest, the Lions have a lot of work to do.