Orlando City will travel to Philadelphia this Sunday to face off with the Union in what has become an October tradition for the Lions: The match marks the third time in as many MLS seasons that City will visit Philly in the final weeks of the regular season.
It’s a familiar spot for Orlando — which will miss the postseason for the third time in its three years of MLS existence — having traveled to Philly in each of the last two seasons in the latter stages of the season in the month of October.
In 2015, Orlando City entered #DecisionDay with playoff hopes, although those hopes were never exactly realistic. The Lions needed a win, a New England loss, and to make up an eight-goal differential in order to backdoor their way into the postseason. As long as the odds were that City could make all of those things happen on the same day, the Revs’ result and goal difference didn’t matter in the end as the Union downed Orlando, 1-0.
The Lions controlled 58% of the possession that day and out-shot the Union, but Sébastien Le Toux’s 41st-minute penalty was too much for backup keeper Josh Ford to handle, and it was all Philly needed to defeat the Lions, who finished with 10 men following a late red card to Cristian Higuita (who was also at fault for surrendering the first-half penalty).
2016’s October meeting between these two featured an Orlando side that was already eliminated from playoff contention and flipped the script on a Philadelphia team trying to claw its way into the playoffs. Philadelphia out-shot Orlando and limited the Lions to 43% possession, but City used second-half goals from Carlos Rivas and Júlio Baptista to take home a 2-0 win and force Philly to secure the sixth playoff spot on the final match day of the season.
This season, the teams are sitting near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table on 39 points apiece with identical 10-14-9 records, with the Union sitting above the Lions on goal difference. A season-ending match-up between two sides whose playoff hopes have been bleak to nonexistent for some time could be a recipe for some sloppy play.
The temperature could be a bit balmy for October in Pennsylvania, as the high will reach 75 degrees — a bit warmer than the past two seasons when the Florida club had to play with evening temps dipping into the 40s and low 50s.
We already know that Kaká won’t be taking part in this contest, having played his last MLS game for Orlando City in front of the Lions faithful last weekend vs. Columbus. Lions Head Coach Jason Kreis will undoubtedly do some experimenting with his lineup in what is essentially a season-ending friendly; some of the Lions who have earned their way from OCB to the first-team fringe like Hadji Barry, Richie Laryea, and Pierre Da Silva could see action, and Kreis could certainly mix things up elsewhere with many players’ futures for 2018 very much in doubt. Kreis made it clear that Kaká wouldn’t be the only Lion on his way out the door come season’s end.
“There’s still some evaluating to do, but if you’re asking me a direct question, I’m not going to lie and say that Ricky is going to be the only one that’s not back next year,” Kreis said, referring to Kaká by his first name. “That’s part and parcel of playing professional sports and being a part of a team that’s not successful.”
Indeed, the result of this one means little other than what non-playoff spot these teams will occupy when the bell officially rings on this campaign. It means much more for the individual players who will be given one last opportunity to impress their manager in 2017 and convince him that they can be helpful cogs in the Orlando machine moving forward.
Perhaps if the Lions are sent to Philadelphia once again next October, they’ll get to know what it’s like to work out some kinks ahead of the postseason, having locked up a playoff spot before the final stretch of the season.
For now, though, we’ll see what kind of lineup Kreis rolls out and whether or not we can glean some positives as we head into the off-season looking once again to retool an underachieving side.