Jason Kreis spoke confidently at Orlando City training on Wednesday. He still believes in his side despite the Lions’ poor form over the last two and a half months, which has seen them play to record of 2-9-6, the worst in the league. They’ve picked up just one win in their last 10 games, and their goal differential has fallen to -11, second worst in the Eastern Conference.
Yet, Kreis believes the real Orlando City is still out there.
“What was our record in the first seven games? Was it different players?” Kreis asked on Wednesday. “They are still here and we still have that ability to win games. You see the way we played in the first 45 minutes against the Red Bulls...I believe in the players that we have and I believe in them for a reason, because I’ve seen them perform. I will also tell you without hesitation that this coaching staff is working harder than we ever have before, and this staff has had a lot of success in this league. I believe if we continue to work that way, the success will come.”
But even with confidence, can he get this team to the playoffs?
It’s been largely a tale of two seasons for Orlando City in 2017. They team got off to one of the hottest starts in MLS history by winning six of their first season games, but since the start of May have done a complete 180 and are now five points below Atlanta United and Columbus Crew SC for the final playoff spot in the East with 10 games left on the schedule.
Since that hot start, Cyle Larin has cooled off — he has just three goals in his last 15 games — and nobody has stepped up to replace that production. Sure, Carlos Rivas has five goals this season, a career-high, but that’s still not nearly enough. Add in four goals for Kaká as well.
All things considered, the team hasn’t played bad defensively. They’re 13th in the league in goals allowed, which isn’t great, but not scoring goals makes it seem worse because of the pressure put on the team to keep other teams off the board, specifically in the second half — another area where the Lions have struggled. In each of their last three games, they’ve seen their opponents tie or take the lead in the second half. Scoring just four goals in the last five games, again, is the only reason why it’s made things as difficult as they’ve been.
But the club is hoping for boosts from its newest signings through the summer transfer window. Dom Dwyer has only played in two games so far, and will potentially make his home debut for the club this weekend. And Peruvian midfielder Yoshi Yotún, who was signed as a Designated Player, brings a certain stability and presence to the midfield that has lacked this season. He looked good in his debut against the New York Red Bulls this past weekend, and showed that he can bring a lot to the table.
The road is cut out for Jason Kreis and his team. The Lions need to win out their five remaining home matches, and pull as many points as they can out of the five left on the road. It won’t be easy with trips to places like Portland and Atlanta on the schedule, but it’s conceivable that the Lions can win in other places like D.C., New England, and Philadelphia if their play improves. And it also helps to have Columbus, a bad team away from home, twice at Orlando City Stadium, in addition to the Revolution.
It’s not about winning this season, and as much as Orlando City players and coaches tell you they want to win — all teams do — this season, from the start, was about gearing up towards 2018 and the long-term path beyond that.
However, as long as the team is still mathematically in the hunt for a playoff spot, the goal will be to finish above the red line and make a run at the MLS Cup. The Lions aren’t quite where they need to be right now, but it’s still far from over.
Kreis believes, but he needs the players to believe too.
“Right now it’s about how badly do we want it, how much are we willing to fight for it?” Kreis said at training on Wednesday. Well, we’re about to find out.