Six games; two points. Simply put, it’s just not good enough. After a stunning start, which saw Orlando City win six of its first seven matches and raise playoff hopes high, the team has hit a rough patch in form nearly halfway through the season.
Although still technically somewhat early in the season, the Eastern Conference is in the midst of a tight race, with 11 teams fighting for the six playoff spots. Orlando is currently sitting in fourth, tied on 20 points with both New York squads. All three teams are four points out of the automatic quarterfinal spot, but there are also a mere four points separating third and ninth positions.
Let’s go back to the 2016 season. Orlando was only a single point out of the sixth and final playoff spot, with the Philadelphia Union occupying the spot with 42 points, and a slightly better goal differential than the Revolution, which had the same amount of points. D.C. United sat in fourth with 46 points, and Montreal Impact in fifth, with 45.
Going back even further, to the 2015 season, Orlando was again the team directly below the playoff line, with 44 points. Toronto occupied the last spot with 49 points, with the four teams above separated by only three points.
Of course, 2014 was the pre-Orlando City Major League Soccer era, and each conference was only allowed five playoff spots each. Sporting Kansas City held fifth with 49, while the two teams above had 50 and 52 points.
While it ultimately also depends on the performance on the other teams in the conference, the goal for Orlando needs to be around 50 points to feel confident in not falling below the playoff line. Reaching this total would have seen Orlando City make the postseason in both previous seasons. The last MLS team to miss the playoffs after reaching the 50-point mark was the San Jose Earthquakes in 2013, and this was due to goal difference.
With 21 games remaining, and currently sitting on 20 points, the Lions will need to claw out another 30 points, assuming the other teams in the conference also run into a stretch of dropped points. For simplicity, this equates to 10 more wins, about half of the schedule, but obviously there are also multiple combinations of both wins and draws. Orlando has 10 home games left, with none of them looking like easy victories, which compounds the importance of getting points on the road.
In conclusion, there is still hope. It is not uncommon for teams in any league to hit a month or so where points just seem to slip away, until the tide turns and they hit a win streak. Orlando City needs to focus on the end goal, and not let this recent dip in form define its season, when there is still plenty of time to keep the playoff hopes alive.