We’re only officially one week into summer, with the June 21 solstice kicking it off in earnest despite there being only a nominal difference between late spring and summer in the state of Florida. While it’s only been a week, though, Orlando City is on a familiar summertime path — the club hasn’t been treated well by the summers of its previous two seasons in MLS.
While Orlando managed a draw on the first day of summer at Seattle, a short turnaround and a long flight resulted in a 4-0 capitulation at Chicago this past weekend. Overall, this latest pair of games has continued a downward trend for the Lions since their spectacular — and unsustainable — start out of the gate this season.
In 2015, the Lions battled through a winless month of July only to break through with a 5-2 thrashing of Columbus to open August, but that high was short-lived and would prove to be the only victory in an 11-game run from July through the beginning of September. This run ultimately resulted in City finishing one spot out of the playoffs.
2016 was even worse, as former Head Coach Adrian Heath saw his tenure as Lions manager come to an end just two weeks into the summer.
Heath’s demise began long before the official June 20 summer solstice, as Orlando won just two of his final 12 games in charge, dating back to April when the Lions fell off following the highest point of their season on April 3, a 4-1 trouncing of Portland. That 12-game run included a six-game winless streak, and a 3-2 win against Toronto at home on June 25, 2016 wasn’t enough to survive a 4-0 drubbing at FC Dallas on the Fourth of July, which was what triggered the club to sack Heath two days later and eventually bring in current Head Coach Jason Kreis.
That brings us back to 2017, when Orlando City started the year with six wins in its first seven games en route to 18 points (2.57 per game). While it was an unsustainable pace that was sure to slow down at some point, it didn’t have to slow all the way down to the point that it has, with City managing just 0.72 points per match in its last 11 games, with only one win to show over that stretch. Orlando is still sitting fourth in the East, but Columbus, Atlanta, and New York Red Bulls are nipping at their heels, the latter two also holding a game in hand.
If the Lions continue their trend of disappointing in the summertime, we could quickly see them in a battle for their playoff lives once again. The good news is that Real Salt Lake is next on the fixture list, with RSL sitting second-to-last in the West with a porous defense that has surrendered 37 goals, the second-most in MLS this season. That, combined with the impending return of striker Cyle Larin, upon whom Orlando relies heavily to carry its scoring burden, should provide an opportunity for three points and a steadying of the ship despite another long flight for City.
But league No. 1 Toronto awaits after that, followed by back-to-back games against the aforementioned Atlanta United. Those two matches against a primary playoff contender in the span of eight days will prove critical, as the Lions could swing six points in either direction on Atlanta in the middle of the summer, either priming themselves for a playoff run or putting a dent their postseason hopes once again.
Kreis hasn’t been responsible for the futility of the previous MLS summers for Orlando City, but he’s in the driver’s seat now and it’s time for his Lions to get things going in the right direction or it’ll be a different manager, but the same summer sadness for OCSC.