Orlando City is in a familiar position as the team gears up for a clash with the Vancouver Whitecaps this weekend. Speculation is beginning to swirl about the off-season already as the Lions continue to drop points in the summer. For the third year running, Orlando is in dire straits and looking up at its competition, trying to find the right mix to set everything on track and finish the year out strong. The difference in 2017? Orlando’s done it before.
“Our first year here, we had a very good series of winning games and this shows that it’s possible,” Kaká said post-training this week. “It was our first year and we did that and so now it means that, third year, the team is more mature, more experienced. We absolutely can do another series of winning games.”
The Brazilian was a big part of a miraculous run to end the club’s inaugural season in MLS, when the Lions dragged themselves from the bottom of the table to the cusp of the playoffs. The five-game win streak still stands as City’s longest in MLS, though it was nearly matched earlier this season. It included demolitions of playoff teams like Sporting Kansas City and the New York Red Bulls and dramatic victories against the Chicago Fire, Montreal Impact, and New York City FC. Help came from the unlikeliest of places with Bryan Rochez scoring all three of his MLS goals and Seb Hines scoring game-winners.
And those five wins came in the last six weeks of the season; Orlando came back from the certain dead to revive its hopes, earning over a third of its final point total in the last month and a half. But what about this season?
The reality is that the Lions’ current position is not much different from where they’ve been in previous years. If anything, it’s an improvement. After match day 25 so far in MLS, Orlando City has held records of 7-11-7 (2015) and 5-8-13 (2016), both good enough for 28 points. In 2017, it sits at 8-10-7, three points ahead of the pace even if the play hasn’t been adequate.
There have been plenty of questions this season about whether or not Orlando City has improved and much of what we’ve seen has been more of the same. Could continuing that trend of waking up down the home stretch actually be enough? Or are the Lions doomed to fall short after another torrid summer?
It’s eerily consistent how Orlando has had a tendency to come alive over the final nine games of the season. In 2015, the Lions went 5-3-1 and earned 16 points (36% of their total 44). In 2016, it was the same story without the drama and consistency; Jason Kreis led the team to a less-dramatic 4-4-1 record (13 points, 32% of the final 41) to finish just one point off the playoff pace. Different managers, different styles, similar results.
Even equaling last year’s finish would be the best season Orlando City has had in MLS to date; the most points, tied for the most wins, and likely with a double digit difference in goals conceded. Whether or not that would be good enough for the playoffs in a resurgent Eastern Conference is another matter. It won’t be easy, with five road trips and home games against heavyweights like FC Dallas. And it may be a dream rather than a realistic goal, but that’s not going to stop the players from believing.
“What I’m trying to say to them is to find your self motivation and come here every day in training and give something that you haven’t given yet,” the captain said. “This is the moment to give the little bit more.” But does he believe they can repeat history?
“We probably are going to do that.”