Outside of Orlando City’s blowout victory over the New England Revolution, a few other results went the Lions’ way on Wednesday night that may have given them the hope of a chance to perform the impossible and slip into the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. If Orlando can build on its victory and recent performances (the Portland loss notwithstanding), the team could make the run in interesting at the very least.
Despite all of the discussion about City being dead in the water, the Lions are indeed still kicking. They’ll need all the help they can get from the soccer gods, but they remain five points away from the red line and there is the slimmest of chances that Orlando could claw its way back into contention. It’s fairly straightforward for OCSC, but the twists and turns come from if and how many points the teams around them lose. Orlando’s fate is in the hands of several other squads.
There are four other teams that are still in the running for the sixth and final playoff spot. The Lions cannot pass any of the five teams ahead of the New York Red Bulls, so that’s the only place left available to them. The Red Bulls, Montreal Impact, New England Revolution, and Philadelphia Union all have a lifeline and the Lions need some help from everyone except Philly.
Here are the circumstances that would have to occur for Orlando City to defy expectations and sneak above the red line:
New York Red Bulls (43 points)
Remaining Schedule: Sept. 30 at Toronto FC, Oct. 7 vs. Vancouver Whitecaps, Oct. 15 vs. Atlanta United, Oct. 22 at D.C. United
New York is the only team with the ability to knock Orlando out for good. With the Lions’ maximum point total set at 47 and the Red Bulls already sitting on 43, the window is small. The good news for Orlando is that New York goes up against a Toronto team still playing for the Supporters’ Shield, a Vancouver team still playing for the top seed in the Western Conference, a red-hot Atlanta side, and D.C., which has already made it publicly known that its only remaining goal is to see the Red Bulls on the outside looking in.
With D.C. United out of playoff race, captain @StevenBirnbaum says: "We’re playing for the Red Bulls to not make the playoffs." 1/2— Steven Goff (@SoccerInsider) September 28, 2017
Technically, the magic number for NYRB to knock OCSC out is five but getting to four might as well put the nail in the Lions’ coffin if the Red Bulls get them the right way. Because the first tiebreaker in MLS is total wins, if the Red Bulls draw their last four and are tied with Orlando for the sixth spot, City moves on with one more win. If they win one and draw one to get there, they would equal Orlando’s total possible win count and move on to the goal-differential tiebreaker, which New York has a 17-goal lead in.
To put it simply, the Red Bulls can’t win twice and must lose at least twice in their last four games for the Lions to have a legitimate shot.
Montreal Impact (39 points)
Remaining Schedule: Sept. 30 at Colorado Rapids, Oct. 15 at Toronto, Oct 22. vs. New England
L’Impact have the easiest run in of the three teams threatening the Lions’ hopes and dreams. The dour Rapids and road-weary Revs are likely victories for the Canadian club, who should be expected to pick up all six points. The 401 Derby between Montreal and TFC is one of the most intense rivalries in MLS and the Impact recently downed the Reds with five goals in Toronto.
Even if the Red Bulls falter, Montreal is the likeliest candidate to overtake them. Luckily for the Lions’ small glimmer of hope, the Impact can only guarantee eliminating Orlando by winning out as well; any dropped points, including against their bitter rivals, opens the door for City. With the swirling rumor about Mauro Biello being out at season’s end, perhaps some instability could shake things up in Orlando’s favor.
New England Revolution (38 points)
Remaining Schedule: Sept. 30 vs. Atlanta United, Oct 15. vs. New York City FC, Oct 22. at Montreal
The Revolution are an interesting case to keep track of as the season winds down. They currently hold the total wins tiebreaker over Orlando, keeping the Lions at ninth, and would do so should both clubs end the season blazing through their remaining schedules. But with Jay Heaps’ sudden exit, the ship may sink further. The Revs have yet to break their home and road splits under Tom Soehn though, defeating Toronto before being put to the sword by Orlando on Wednesday. If that trend continues, at least the Lions will have some solace that the Revs will likely drop points in Montreal. Orlando may have to hope they cannibalize each other and walk away with a draw on decision day.
Orlando City (38 points)
Remaining Schedule: Sept. 30 vs. FC Dallas, Oct. 15 vs. Columbus Crew, Oct. 22 at Philadelphia
All of these scenarios are meaningless though if Orlando can’t deliver on its end of the bargain. Orlando will most likely need to win out but it gets the uncharacteristically mediocre and sliding Dallas and two beatable teams in Columbus and Philly. Technically speaking, City only needs six points to eclipse New York but the likelihood of the Red Bulls, Montreal and New England collectively dropping enough points would be a catastrophic collapse by the Red Bulls and the Impact being upset on several occasions. If City doesn’t win this weekend, it can be swiftly eliminated with a Red Bulls victory.
Two wins and a draw on paper could be enough, but that would require the Red Bulls drawing all four of their remaining matches and even then Orlando would need to make up that wide goal differential gap of 17. If the Lions want to have any realistic chance, it means taking all nine points. Should that happen, the scenario to leapfrog their competitors is borderline realistic.