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Road Form the Difference for Orlando City B in 2017

The young Lions’ performances away from home is much improved over last year.

Orlando City B vs. Harrisburg City Islanders: Photo Gallery Matt Starkey, The Mane Land

Orlando City B is currently in position to qualify for the playoffs for the second season running. With last night’s win, the young Lions are now in seventh place with 42 points, sitting a point ahead of New York Red Bulls II and the Bethlehem Steel. It’s their play on the road that has put them in this position, a far cry from last season.

OCB has now played the same amount of games as they did in 2016 and have played the same amount of road games. While their home records for the two seasons are very similar, there is a clear difference between their play on the road, especially down the stretch.

As the season winds down, teams are jockeying for position, trying to obtain one of the eight coveted playoff spots in each conference. With a heavy home schedule early in 2016, the young Lions traveled frequently late in the season. The defining stretch of last year was a five-game losing streak into September with four of those games occurring away from home. Only a last day win in Bethlehem allowed them to qualify for the postseason. In total, the young Lions finished the season 5-8-2 away from home and lost six of their last seven.

This season has been quite different. The Lions are now 7-5-4 away from home with this latest win, which includes going 4-1-3 in their last eight road matches.

Probably the biggest reason for this season’s success away from home is scheduling. While MLS teams fly to their away games, USL teams use the roadways. In 2016, OCB played only five games away from home the first half of the season and 10 away from home during the second half. The first half included a six-game home stand, while the second ended on a four-game road trip. When the traveling accommodations are less than ideal, that’s a difficult task.

Regardless of the reason, OCB’s play when traveling away has changed the fortunes of this season. It may change the fortunes of the postseason as well. With the struggles they had away last season, a trip to the first place New York Red Bulls II was a daunting task. The result was the young Lions getting demolished in the first round of their first playoff game, 4-0. But that may not be the case this season.

Sitting one point behind FC Cincinnati for sixth and two points behind the Rochester Rhinos for fifth, the Lions could easily finish anywhere from fifth to ninth when the season ends. But finishing in one of the final playoff spots is not nearly as demoralizing as it was last year. The top two teams last season were New York Red Bulls II and Louisville City, and while OCB did come away with a 2-1 win at Louisville, their other trip resulted in a 4-1 drubbing. Their only trip to New York saw a 5-1 beatdown by Red Bulls II.

The top three teams in the USL’s Eastern Conference have been the same all year; Louisville City, Charleston Battery, and Charlotte Independence. OCB’s lone game in Louisville this year came in late August with the Lions rolling to a 3-0 win on the back of a Michael Cox brace. Adding to the impressiveness of the win was that OCB had lost star goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr. and striker Hadji Barry to the senior squad. The Lions drew their only games in the Carolinas this year with a 0-0 draw in Charleston and a 1-1 draw in Charlotte. With those results, along with their form on the road, a trip away during the playoffs seems much easier to manage.

With two games left and a packed group near the red line, OCB certainly hasn’t clinched anything yet. But with the way they’ve been playing, and with their final two games at home, the young Lions have a good chance to qualify for the playoffs for the second straight year. Their current situation is due in large part to their much-improved form on the road. It’s also a reason why, assuming they qualify, the Lions of OCB can feel much more confident going into the postseason than they did a year ago.