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Is Orlando City Making Progress in 2017?

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It’s still somewhat of a transitional season for Jason Kreis, but Orlando is on pace for a very similar finishing position as its first two MLS campaigns.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City’s third season in MLS started out looking like it might be in record-breaking contention.

The Lions won six of their first seven matches and found themselves atop the Eastern Conference table in the early season. In what is its first full season under Head Coach Jason Kreis, City was flying high and it looked like simply qualifying for the postseason wouldn’t be a lofty enough goal for the club after its start out of the gate.

Fast-forward to late August, however, and things look much different. The slim margins that Orlando was winning by in the early season — when the Lions’ defense was putting in heroic efforts to overshadow a lack of goal scoring ability in attack — have come back to bite it, as OCSC currently sits in eighth place in the East and five points out of a playoff position.

Now the question has shifted from “How far can Orlando go in the playoffs?” to “Have the Lions progressed at all in 2017?”

There is no question that Kreis has improved one facet of the team immensely, and that’s the defense, where Orlando’s goals-per-game allowed figure has dropped significantly after leaking a league-high 60 goals a season ago. But while Kreis’ back line has been stouter than his predecessor Adrian Heath’s, it has come as a trade-off: His offensive returns have yet to mirror those of the current Minnesota United manager during his two MLS seasons in Orlando.

Orlando City by MLS Season

Season Points Per Match GF Per Match GA Per Match Final Standing
Season Points Per Match GF Per Match GA Per Match Final Standing
2015 1.29 1.35 1.65 7th (5 points back of 6th)
2016 1.21 1.62 1.76 8th (1 point back)
2017 1.24 1.04 1.48 ?

While the Lions’ defense was so porous a season ago that it rendered one of the league’s most-potent attacks (55 goals scored in ’16) moot, the opposite seems to be happening in 2017 and it has Orlando City on pace to finish at a similar place in the table as it did in each of the past two seasons. City’s 1.48 goals allowed per match is much better than either of Heath’s sides managed (1.65 and 1.76 in 2015 and 2016, respectively), but the 1.04 goals scored per game is a far cry from what Heath’s sides managed (1.35 and 1.62). Even while playing without Kevin Molino for most of 2015, Orlando managed 0.31 goals per match more than it’s currently scoring, and a fully fit Molino and Co. lit it up last season for over half a goal more per outing than this year’s Lions.

The addition of Dom Dwyer up front was a step in the right direction, but the former USL Lions forward has yet to find the net in three appearances (albeit in only 173 total minutes). Likewise, new addition Dillon Powers hasn’t had any chances to make an impact for Orlando, and while Yoshimar Yotún was promising in his debut, City has yet to score more than a single goal in either of his two starts.

In fairness to Kreis, it’s been another year of inconsistent health for Kaká and the significant roster turnover is evidence that the coach is still in the process of molding the side into the image he wants it to resemble. But if Orlando keeps up its season-long points-per-game pace (1.24, almost exactly splitting its first two season ppg averages) over the final nine matches of the year, it will finish with about 42 points and likely find itself two or three spots out of the final playoff position — very familiar territory despite all the changes in the front office, on the touchline, and on the roster itself.

If that happens, even in what is still somewhat of a transitional season given that it is Kreis’ first full campaign at the helm, it’s fair to ask if the Lions made progress or just swapped their strengths and weaknesses en route to a similar end product.