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How does Orlando City’s First Half of 2017 Compare to Previous MLS Seasons?

The Lions are ahead of where they were in 2015 and 2016, but only just.

MLS: Sporting KC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s one word that can describe the Orlando City season so far, it’s streaky. The team started with six wins in its first seven, leaning on the defense to grind out results at home. Then the Lions stumbled, winning only once in the last 10 and even that win was against a floundering D.C. United. Lately, they’ve been fighting to the last minute to secure points against the Montreal Impact and Seattle Sounders, but Orlando is still searching for that signature win.

But even without that signature, dominating performance that the club seems to be searching for, City is moving in the right direction. It’s out to its best start in MLS history (if only just) with a newfound defense and some hustle. The offense lacks the efficiency of the high-flying 2016 team, but the defense has found new solidity on the back of newcomers Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia, and Scott Sutter.

Orlando sits fourth in the much-improved Eastern Conference, just six points off the top of the Supporters Shield and four above the red line. With better depth than their first two seasons, there has to be some optimism on what the Lions could be if they can put it all together and potentially bring in a key piece during the summer window. They have dealt with Kaká going down just 11 minutes into the year, a rash red card to Rafael Ramos, and now a DUI for star striker Cyle Larin, yet they’ve persevered to stay in solid playoff position. Which is important to understand when comparing 2017 to previous years.

By the numbers, the first half of the 2017 season for Orlando City looks remarkably similar to the club’s first MLS season. This year’s side has edged that 2015 team by one win and is three points ahead of that year’s pace at the midway point. The sides are also nearly even in goals scored (22 in 2015 compared to 20 this year) and goals allowed (21 and 22, respectively). And, while it may not seem like it, that opening MLS year saw the Lions keep five clean sheets in the first half — the same number as the current Lions squad has through the same number of games -- but dramatically dipped in the summer, only registering two more to close out the year.

Through 17 Matches 2015-2017

2015 2016 2017
2015 2016 2017
Record 6-6-5 4-4-9 7-5-5
Points 23 21 26
Goals For 22 28 20
Goals Against 21 29 22
Leading Scorer Kaka (8) Cyle Larin (8) Cyle Larin (8)

During the beginning of the inaugural season, Orlando leaned on Kaká. But in 2017 the club has won in spite of its star Designated Player. His eight goals led the team and he was by far the focal point of that offense. While Orlando has had similar production this year, it’s needed to find it from other areas. While Carlos Rivas has made some contributions, it’s really been a committee — Orlando has more goal scorers midway through 2017 than it did in either of the past two seasons, with nine different players finding the back of the net — and the club has needed every goal so far.

2017 has already been a drastic change from last year, which was full of dramatic shootouts with multiple goals consistently traded in the dying moments. 2016 Orlando City allowed at least two goals in 11 of its first 17 matches and only managed two clean sheets. The turnaround under Kreis has been drastic and it has shown on the stat sheet.

Projecting based on recent seasons would suggest Orlando would drift back toward the red line and fight for one of the final playoff spots, though on its current pace the club is more likely to be on the right side this time around. But it will have to avoid the summer doldrums that have doomed the Lions in previous years. There’s some optimism that the team still has room to grow; the players are still getting used to new teammates and Jason Kreis’ system. The injury issues have dissipated and the gaffer nearly has his whole roster at his disposal to deal with the jammed schedule to finish out June.

With a positive summer window in the next month and getting players back in the fold, Kreis and company can build on the foundation they’ve put down and swing the team back into its winning ways.