Orlando City B is in a tough position in its attempt to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the USL's Eastern Conference. The young Lions will finish the season with a four-game road trip.
OCB's schedule this season began very home-heavy, with the club playing nine of its first 12 games at home, including a six-game home stand. The problem with that is the back end of the season is very road-heavy, with the Lions playing seven of their final nine games away from the friendly confines of Titan Soccer Complex in Melbourne.
Currently the Lions sit in the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. While the Lions are a rather comfortable five points ahead of the City Islanders, Wilmington Hammerheads, and Bethlehem Steel, they are a full 10 points behind the Charlotte Independence and Charleston Battery, a nearly insurmountable distance from the seventh position.
Despite being five points ahead of the nearest competition, that lead could quickly evaporate over the coming week. While three of the four remaining opponents are behind them in the standings, the Lions have struggled recently away from home. Since their June 26 win at last place FC Montreal, they've only won once in their last six, including losing their last three. During a recent trip to New York and Charlotte, the Lions were outscored 9-1.
Meanwhile, the three teams chasing OCB each only have one more game away from home and will host of their remaining games. Giving Wilmington and Bethlehem even more confidence is that they will have the opportunity to host the Lions, a virtual six-point game.
Making matters worse for the Lions and Steel is that both of these are reserve teams, which are secondary to Orlando City and the Philadelphia Union — both of which are fighting for playoff spots. While Orlando City currently sits just a point behind D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the east, Philadelphia is only three points behind the New York Red Bulls for second, which would give the Union a bye through the first round. Both teams could see key players that could help their USL playoff push called up to the senior team to help qualify for the MLS postseason.
While the road does look tough for the Lions to hold onto that eighth spot, they do have some advantages going into this final stretch. Two of their final four games are against Wilmington (Sep. 7) and the Bethlethem Steel (Sep. 25). Wins in those two games would virtually eliminate those two from contention. And while they don't play the City Islanders again, they have a game in hand on the Islanders, allowing them an opportunity to gain more points. The Islanders also will host New York Red Bulls II in their next game, who currently sit at the top of the conference.
OCB could've made its road to qualification much easier this weekend had the Lions defeated the Pittsburgh Riverhounds in their final home match of the season. But the lethargic-looking Lions fell 2-0 to the team that, despite those three points, still sits nine points lower in the standings.
While the primary purpose of Orlando City B is still development, the players, coaches, and staff would still like to qualify for the postseason. The young Lions currently sit in that final playoff position in the Eastern Conference and are five points ahead of the ninth-place teams. But, with the potential of losing key players to the senior team and all four remaining games on the road, it will be a tough battle.