Let me begin by making one thing transparent: In no way did my last article, the Five Can’t-Miss Home Matches of 2018, mean that you should only try really really hard to make those matches. With the help of my writing colleagues, we tried to narrow down the home schedule to five matches that have some type of significance, history, or emotion to them that other matches may not.
Every home match is special, but honestly, some have a bit more pizzazz than others. I expect every season ticket holder goes out of their way to make every match, to have their voices heard, and to support the team we all love, but in life, things happen. I can count the number of home matches I have missed since I became a STH seven or eight years ago in the USL days on one hand — and when I say missed, I mean I was not physically at the stadium, but I surely was watching on a screen somewhere. Now that that little diatribe is through, we have a new five for you.
There are any number of ways to break down the 2018 MLS schedule for Orlando City. As linked and mentioned above, we have already discussed five home matches. Now, we want to dig a little deeper. There are matches that you just know will be difficult, whether it is the team being played, the schedule, the travel, or players out on international duty (remember, a number of players across MLS will be representing their countries in Russia 2018 later this season), there will just be matches that are much tougher than others. Below, we racked our heads to bring you five of those matches to mark on your personal 2018 Orlando City season calendar. Without further ado, lets dig right in, but in no particular order.
At Toronto — May 18
Let’s be a bit honest here: away to the defending MLS champs, who look to be solid again this season, will always be a challenge. It’s already notoriously difficult to win away points in MLS, but then when you add on the fact that it’s Toronto FC, things get even worse. Facing Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Sebastian Giovinco is a massive test for anyone, and facing them at BMO Field is even more daunting. Also, Sacha Kljestan has a bit of history with TFC. Remember this?
I won’t openly mention that Altidore flop, but man Jozy can flop, or Sacha is a full-on beast who can move mountains with his bare hands (or the power of the stache compels you). Playing in BMO will be tough for anyone again this season, and considering they are the team to beat in the East, it makes it all that much more difficult.
At Montreal — June 13
This will be the first short-rest test for the Lions. After playing the Saturday before away at Vancouver, Orlando will face a Wednesday match in Montreal. These short weeks did not treat Orlando City kindly in previous seasons, especially in away trips. Orlando City is even with Montreal to date; in eight total matches played, OCSC has won three, drawn two, and lost three. In 2017, the teams played to a draw at Orlando City Stadium, and City lost on the road to Montreal. It will be interesting to see how the squad handles depth, rest, and rotation on this first congested section of the 2018 schedule.
At Atlanta — June 30
Regardless of your feelings towards Atlanta United, if they keep putting fans in seats in Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it is just a daunting facility to play in. Then add the fact that — and it pains me the write this — Atlanta did a pretty good job of building a roster from day one and should be a playoff contender again this season.
Never mind the attack, facing the experience of Brad Guzan will be tough, especially when the fans are on his side. We also have that whole “Kings of the South” issue still to deal with. As the Atlanta fans will not let us forget, they made the playoffs before us, regardless of the fact that they’ve won just as many playoff matches as OCSC has, and that would be zero. The teams have played three matches, with ATL winning one at Orlando City Stadium and drawing both matches in Atlanta (Orlando City was the first MLS team to score in MB Stadium, and we should also mention that a Florida team — UCF — was the first team to raise a trophy in the stadium). There will be three matches again this season as MLS tries to help Orlando find a rival, but the away match will be tough no matter how you slice it.
At LA Galaxy — July 29
The LA Galaxy did not have the best of seasons in 2017, finishing last in the West. What makes this fixture difficult is timing. On July 21, Orlando plays away at Columbus (homecoming for newly acquired Justin Meram), then flies quickly home to face NYCFC on a Thursday, to then turn around and fly out west to face the Galaxy on Sunday. Since joining MLS, Orlando City has faced LA three times, with the home team winning every match. The West Coast has not been particularly kind to Orlando, especially LA, considering the Lions’ last trip there in 2016 ended in a 4-2 defeat. Add on top of this the short week full of fixtures, and things just get more difficult for a team traversing the country in the middle of summer.
At Dallas — Oct. 6
Wait, what? Why Dallas? Did you realize that the Lions have never scored against FC Dallas in MLS play? In fact, you have to go all the way back to 2011 in U.S. Open Cup play to find a date when Orlando City scored against FC Dallas, a 3-2 loss. Orlando’s one saving grace this season is that it has some time to rest before heading west to Dallas — two weeks to be exact. In four MLS fixtures vs. FCD, OCSC has been able to manage one point, a 0-0 draw in the latest meeting. As with most fixtures in MLS, it will be very difficult to win away. In 2017, a non-playoff FC Dallas only lost twice at home. At the time of this writing, Dallas may be the only MLS club that Orlando has yet to score against, which creates a daunting challenge when you realize how late in the season this fixture is and the possible playoff position implications that it could have.
These are just some of the fixtures that stood out to us. I would be remiss if I did not challenge you all to find other fixtures as difficult as the ones mentioned above. Be prepared to bring facts and rationale to the debate, and that should be something other than bashing other clubs just because, or throwing a Waffle House FC dig in. MLS and its schedule are a fickle beast, and not one to be trifled with. Orlando plays NYCFC and Atlanta three times this season, almost by some hand of fate. At the end of the day, or depending on how you look at it, the road ahead in 2018 is one to be watched, and there are bound to be a few speed bumps along the way.
The one thing I can certainly say right now is that everything I know is thrown out the window on a daily basis currently with the new roster and acquisitions. The unknown creates even more chaos, and will continue to breed chaos, like an Old One from the mind of H.P. Lovecraft. But even as Cthulhu rises, I firmly believe that these fixtures will be some of the most difficult the club will face in 2018. Will the difficulty be on the same level it would have been with the 2017 roster? Only time will tell. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, please.