A very popular common thought about Major League Soccer’s regular season says that each of a team’s 34 matches has the exact same weight. Even if this theory is unquestionably correct, it is also fair to say that a given series of matches could be pivotal in the outcome of an entire year for a club.
A strong start can be put down by a weak finish as the opposite can also happen, with a team that seemed destined to a mediocre season coming back to life after a good sequence. The best team will be the one that keeps a good balance during the entire season, but managing to achieve that in an eight-month, 34-game stretch of time can be complicated.
As Orlando City SC already knows what its schedule will look like in 2018, the Lions’ coaching staff has probably spent a fair amount of time over it, identifying crucial moments for the team, those that can be the difference between achieving unprecedented success or failing miserably.
Here are some dates which were probably highlighted on their calendars:
On this Sunday, the Lions are going to play their fifth regular season match, against the Portland Timbers at Orlando City Stadium. This will be the team’s fourth home game in five weeks, following meetings with D.C. United, Minnesota United and New York Red Bulls in Florida and a match-up with New York City FC in the Big Apple.
The four home matches are ones that Orlando City should win and if the team manages to get any points on the road against NYCFC, as it did in previous seasons, it would put itself in a good position to start the playoff race, giving Head Coach Jason Kreis some relief and the team a much welcomed boost of confidence. Last year, the Lions did their job on this same portion of the season, getting four wins in five games, but their prolonged mid-season decline compromised the entire season.
Last year, Orlando City’s playoff dreams started to fall apart in May, when the club started a poor run that saw the team get a single win over 11 matches. It’s tough to accomplish something big in MLS after such a terrible succession of results and unfortunately the Lions learned it the hard way.
Bad moments like that need to be avoided and if something similar is going to happen in 2018, it would probably be from June 2 to July 7, when Orlando has a tough series of matches against New York City FC (away), Vancouver Whitecaps (away), Montreal Impact (away and home), Atlanta United (away) and Los Angeles FC (away), and will probably not have Yoshimar Yotún due to international duty. If the Lions manage to get a couple of road wins, they will probably survive for the final stretch of the season.
The final match of the regular season is obviously an important moment, with the fates of all 23 MLS teams being set. However, for Orlando, the meeting with the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey could mean an unprecedented playoffs qualification after three years of frustrations.
The game against the New Yorkers is important itself as they could potentially be competing with the Lions for a playoff berth, but before that Orlando will face two other fellow Eastern Conference teams in the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew SC, with a home match against the Seattle Sounders sandwiched between them. Finishing the season strong could make up for stumbles in the months before and could mean the final shot at competing in the postseason.