We are getting closer and closer, folks. The 2018 season is almost upon us, transfers and acquisitions are coming at a fever pitch, rumors are flying left and right, and debates abound on just what the Lions will look like when they take the pitch in 2018. But before that information comes rushing at us at light speed (2.99792458e8 m/s in vacuum in case you didn’t know), here are a few of the home matches that I, for one, will not miss, and I don’t think you should either.
Opening Match — March 3 vs. D.C. United
The squad is going to look very different to all of us as Orlando begins the 2018 MLS campaign. It looks like the Lions may start this season with only one returning outfield player who came with Orlando City into MLS. Any guesses? That player would be Cristian Higuita (this all depends on the outcome of the Cyle Larin-to-Besiktas debacle we are currently tracking and the Ramos-to-Chicago rumor). Formation questions abound, but the fact of the matter is that we will see something completely new on March 3, something that many have been calling for for some time, and the massive roster shift has finally arrived.
D.C. United comes to town to open up the 2018 MLS season. Orlando and D.C. have met eight times since Orlando entered MLS, with Orlando winning four, drawing one, and losing three. Orlando won both fixtures last season, outscoring D.C. by a combined 4-1. D.C. will come to town without Bill Hamid, who did not renew his contract and moved to FC Midtjylland, but traded to bring in David Ousted from Vancouver Whitecaps. D.C. United finished below Orlando in the Eastern Conference standings last season, and this year I predict no difference. If there was an opponent to open the season with, D.C. United is about the best choice, even considering the fact that Orlando will be fielding a very new squad that might need a bit of time to begin to really gel together.
The Return of Inchy — March 10 vs. Minnesota United
Do I need to really explain the importance of this? Adrian Heath is an Orlando legend, dating all the way back to the first USL days. I realize that Orlando City has only had two coaches while it has existed in Orlando, Heath and current Head Coach Jason Kreis. Heath is the only coach to lead the Lions to hardware, although all of the hardware was during play in the USL. During Heath’s reign, we were introduced to Dom Dwyer, Kevin Molino, Harrison Heath, Kaká, Tally Hall, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunately though, the success of USL did not translate to MLS, and in July of 2016 Heath was fired by the club.
Inchy, as he is affectionately known, now returns to Orlando City Stadium on March 10 as the head coach of second-year team Minnesota United. This also marks the return of Molino and Harrison Heath, as well as now-sideline field reporter Jamie Watson. The Lions have played Minnesota once in MLS, losing 1-0. It should be interesting to see the welcome these gentlemen get. (Anyone remember the ever-so-quiet “he scores when he wants” chant and golf clap send off of Dom Dwyer on his first trip — and red card — against Orlando City in the Citrus Bowl?)
Sacha and those Red Bulls — March 31 vs. New York
NYRB come to visit Orlando on March 31 and get to spend the evening with Orlando as we welcome Sacha Kljestan to the pitch. In case you have no idea what the hell I am talking about, Sacha has a two-game ban to serve at the beginning of the 2018 season for that on-field kerfuffle that moved into the tunnel during the MLS Cup playoffs. The first home match that Sacha is available to play will be when the Red Bulls come to town.
Historically, the New York Red Bulls have bested Orlando City in the series by four wins, one draw, and 2 losses, with each team taking its home match last season. This marks the return of Tommy Redding and Carlos Rivas, who were both part of the trade to bring Sacha to Orlando. Former Lion Aurélien Collin returns to Orlando as well. It will be very interesting to see what, if any, chip Sacha has on his shoulder as well as what affect his leaving NYRB will have.
Lions as the Giant Killers — July 14 vs. Toronto FC
MLS champs have not had the best of luck the following season when they play Orlando City, especially when they visit Orlando City Stadium. In fact, Orlando City has not lost to a defending MLS Cup champ since entering the league. In the inaugural season of 2015, the LA Galaxy visited Orlando City and lost 4-0. In 2016, the Portland Timbers came to town and lost 4-1. In 2017, Orlando faced the Seattle Sounders on the road and drew, 1-1. In total, the Lions have four wins, one draw, and four losses against the West Coast teams that have won the MLS Cup since Orlando joined the league.
Then there is Toronto, the current MLS Cup champion and current holder of the Supporters’ Shield. Orlando does not have a great MLS record vs. Toronto, currently sitting with one win, one draw, and six losses. The Lions competed well with them during the 2016 campaign, but lost both matches this past season. July 14 — after a road match to new club LAFC — will be the second time Orlando plays TFC this season, so we should already know how well the Lions match up with the Reds. It will be interesting to see if history continues to repeat itself and Orlando City continues to fare well against defending MLS Cup holders. They are the team to chase going into the 2018 season, and this game could have pretty big implications across the conference, as well as in grading the off-season moves Orlando made to dig the club out of the bottom of the East.
First Playoff Match
Yup, I am making the prediction now: Orlando City will make the playoffs this season. The roster moves have me convinced, even before training begins, the new kits are revealed (I am still holding out for a red or gold third kit), and the formation and strategy of the club moving forward are revealed. We will have months of thrills and agony, but in the end, I know deep down in my well-honed, dad-bod beer gut that this squad will make the playoffs.
Gut also leads me to believe that this will be the bottom half of the playoff picture, coming in somewhere in the 5-6 range. First playoff match will more than likely be an away match, and I for one will be more than happy to make the trip. There is always a chance that the first playoff for the team would be at home. There is always hope. Rebellions are built on hope.
Go figure, Orlando gets three games against Atlanta United this season. It is almost as if the MLS powers that be really hope this turns into a rivalry like Seattle vs. Portland, or New York City FC vs. New York Red Bulls, or any other rivalry in MLS. Rivalries are not manufactured by schedule, they are built over time, hatred, disdain, and history. MLS did the same thing with Orlando City and NYCFC. The Lions have been scheduled to play the other 2015 MLS entrant three times every year, including this one. So MLS has OCSC playing NYCFC and ATL three times apiece this season.
I do not want to feed into what has become the argument over “southern,” but the matches should be good, if for nothing else but the Waffle House jokes. Rivalries need time, and although it is looking like this could become a rivalry, we should not let it be forced upon us. It will develop naturally.
I can’t think of better home matches to watch, although there are a few that came close and made the decision to only pick five pretty difficult. To be honest, I will be at every home match, barring a natural disaster, plague, zombie apocalypse, thermonuclear detonation, WWIII, or a flare-up of my nonexistent gout (long funny story for a later day). Let me know what you think are the top five home matches for you.
Next up for me, and coming soon for your reading pleasure, I will be working with my fellow contributors here at The Mane Land to bring you the five toughest matches in the 2018 season. See you soon, everyone, and let’s get ready for the 2018 season!