Orlando City will undoubtedly enjoy a great home-field advantage at its new grounds in 2017, starting with the March 5 season opener against NYCFC. However, the Lions must travel for half of their 34 league matches, when that advantage won’t be present. Of those 17 away matches, these will be City’s most difficult.
Wednesday, May 3 — at Toronto
BMO Field has been something of a house of horrors for Orlando City since the club began play in MLS back in 2015.
The Lions traveled to Toronto twice in what was a terrible August of 2015 and came away on the wrong end of a 9-1 aggregate score. The 4-1 and 5-0 defeats were exclamation points on a month that saw three blowout losses and only one win. The first of those visits saw a Sebastian Giovinco hat trick power TFC, while the second match was highlighted by two goals from Jozy Altidore and two red cards for Orlando City, which went down to nine men in the eventual five-goal loss.
A 0-0 draw at BMO in September of 2016 was certainly an improvement on anything the Lions had done in Toronto before, but that outcome came despite a man advantage for the final 20 minutes of the match. The stalemate eventually resulted in City falling five points below the playoff cut line in what would be a failed postseason push.
With Giovinco aiming at another MVP-caliber campaign, and with Altidore and Michael Bradley still suiting up alongside him, Toronto will once again be one of the East’s best sides, and this early season trip looks sure to be a massive challenge for the Lions.
Wednesday, June 21 — at Seattle
As part of the aforementioned August 2015, Orlando City was also the victim of a 4-0 beatdown at CenturyLink Field at the hands of the Seattle Sounders.
Tyler Turner racked up a pair of yellow cards in the opening 40 minutes of that match, and a 1-0 deficit at the point of his dismissal snowballed into a four-goal loss in a hurry. Obafemi Martins scored two that day for the Sounders, who rudely welcomed the Lions in their first and only visit to one of the toughest venues in North American soccer.
The Sounders are coming off an MLS Cup Championship and play at a deafeningly loud stadium that has led MLS in attendance every year since Seattle’s entry into the league in 2009. That atmosphere alone will make this match a very difficult one, but the silver lining is that Orlando has dispatched of the reigning MLS champions in each of the previous two seasons in impressive fashion. However, both of those matches happened in Camping World Stadium.
Sunday, Sept. 24 — at Portland
Unlike BMO Field, Portland’s Providence Park hasn’t haunted Orlando City to this point in its MLS lifetime. The Lions’ only previous trip to Portland resulted in a 2-0 win in April of 2015, a game that saw Cyle Larin net his first MLS goal and a Kaká penalty put away the team that would eventually go on to become MLS champions that year.
The Lions now boast a 2-0 record against Portland, despite finishing a combined 12 points back of the Timbers over the past two seasons. The second win was an emphatic 4-1 home victory on April 3, 2016, which was City’s most dominant outing of the 2016 season.
Those two results won’t matter much once the Lions head back to Providence Park, however. Consistently one of the best atmospheres in MLS, the 22,000-seat venue is a perfect example of what Orlando is aspiring to create at its new stadium this season: a deafening environment that provides one of, if not the best, overall home-field advantages in the league. This will be the first time that Orlando has faced Portland under Jason Kreis, and the rigors of Providence Park — not to mention the usual strength of the Timbers themselves — will make this a tough test, especially if the Lions find themselves scrapping for playoff position once again this September.
While there are certainly other significant road matches — debut trips to Atlanta and Minnesota, a match at altitude in Salt Lake City, etc. — for Orlando City, none of which figure to be easy, the matches listed above mark what should be the most difficult to navigate for the Lions. They’re the type of matches where a point would be a good result, and a full three points would provide reason for celebration.