Having its playoffs chances limited to only 3%, Orlando City SC is not playing for much as Major League Soccer’s regular season nears its end. However, even with an unlikely goal to achieve, the Lions displayed a promising attitude on the field in the last two matches, when the team battled through adversity to amass four road points against D.C. United and Atlanta United.
“I feel that the last two matches the guys’ energy level has been different,” Head Coach Jason Kreis said to the media after the match against Atlanta. “I think the guys’ commitment level has been a little bit different. In this league, the difference between the best team and the worst team is so minimal and often times if you can just get that full commitment level out of all the players and doing it together you will see the results can change very quickly.”
On Sept. 9, Orlando had a great first half against D.C. United and went to the locker room with a 2-0 lead. In the second half, though, things got uglier as midfielder Servando Carrasco and defender Seb Hines were both sent off and the Lions had to protect their lead with a two-man disadvantage.
The effort was rewarded and, even though D.C. managed to score a goal, Orlando left RFK Stadium will all three points for the first time since June thanks to the hard work of its players.
“I thought it was going to be another sad night,” Kreis commented after the win. “I felt like we would concede and I thought that everything was going against us in those five or 10 minutes. I’m really, really happy that the guys continued to fight and got the job done.”
After the match, the team was not allowed to fly back to Orlando, as Florida was being affected by Hurricane Irma. The Lions flew to Atlanta instead and stayed there until Tuesday, when they were driven back home.
Last Saturday, the team had another challenge to face as Orlando was set to play Atlanta on the road. With several absences, the Lions were playing under huge pressure against a team that was supported by 70,425 fans — a new all-time MLS record — and the hosts had won their last two matches at home by scoring 10 goals and conceding none.
In one of the most solid performances of the second half of the season the Lions had the lead three times over the match but had to settle for a 3-3 tie as Josef Martínez scored a hat trick. Even with only one point in the books, the team’s performance was praised by Kreis again.
“To settle for a point is a little disheartening but to look past that and look at the performance, I’m really proud of what the guys put into it,” he said in a club press release. “I thought the effort and mentality to respond twice after giving away goals and get the lead again was fantastic. The guys gave us everything and I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
It is unlikely that Orlando’s late push will take the team to the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time, but somehow it’s reassuring to see the players are able to keep a positive attitude in such an adverse scenario.