With its fourth win in five games, Orlando City has put itself in good company. The Lions are currently sitting second in the Eastern Conference with at least one game in hand on the rest of the field. But they’ve also done something that few teams have in the history of the league in taking 12 points from their first five matches. It’s a difficult feat, winning at least four of your opening five games like Orlando has.
That said, it’s not necessarily a rare phenomenon — at least one team each season has had such a start to the year since 2005 — but the clubs that have produced these kinds of blistering beginnings have proven to be the among the best at year’s end. Sixteen other teams have had similar starts to the Lions in 2017; 14 of them have found themselves in the postseason at the end of the year, with over half finishing in the top three of their respective conferences. History says that Orlando City is likely to make the breakthrough for its first playoff appearance.
It may seem obvious that teams who start well end well, but there’s a very real threat of falling off, especially with a home-heavy opening to the year. Winning on the road in MLS is notoriously difficult and scheduling can play a heavy hand in form. Those that dropped off dropped hard, especially in the next five matches. The 2006 Kansas City Wizards started with the same 12 points that Orlando did, but only took two through their next five. They would go on to finish second to last. The ’06 Wizards have been the anomaly, however, with the rest of their counterparts going on to the postseason until 2013 when FC Dallas flamed out in Schellas Hyndman’s final year as head coach.
In an even more exclusive fraternity, only two managers have managed to achieve this feat multiple times. One being Peter Vermes, who got Sporting Kansas City rolling early in both 2012 and 2016, and the other Orlando’s own Jason Kreis. 2017 marks the third time that Kreis has pushed his teams to the top of the early season tables after doing so with Real Salt Lake in both 2011 and 2012. Famed MLS managers like Bruce Arena, Sigi Schmid, and Oscar Pareja have managed it once but not again.
For City fans, there has to be a modicum of positivity knowing that Kreis has had this kind of success in the past. In both of those years, Kreis took RSL to the Western Conference semifinal. It’s a trend that almost every club with a hot start has experienced, and it puts a bit of a damper on the success.
Only one time has a club with 12 points through the first five games gone on to win the Cup. In 2008, the Columbus Crew went on to finish first in the East and then lift the trophy. No other team has even made it to the final, with most getting stopped in their respective conference finals. Twice they dropped all the way to the knockout round and were bounced there, including last year’s Sporting Kansas City, which fell to eventual champions Seattle. It’s the epitome of getting hot at the right time; while winning early sets the club up for sustained success over the regular season, there’s no guarantee once the playoffs roll around.
For Orlando, which has made it clear that making the playoffs is one of the club’s primary goals, this start to the year has the team in great position to achieve that if history is doomed to repeat itself. Once the Lions get there, it’s a whole different story.