When Victor Rodriguez scored for the Seattle Sounders in the third minute Wednesday night, it resulted in Orlando City setting a new MLS record for futility. While setting a new league record for goals conceded may have surprised some around the country, it’s been coming for a while.
Orlando City has had several problems on the field over the past four seasons. That’s why the Lions have continuously plummeted down to the depths to where they currently reside. But the most consistent problem over the past four seasons has been on defense.
In each of Orlando City’s four seasons in MLS, the team has been near the bottom of the league in goals conceded. The best of those years was in 2015 when the Lions conceded 56, good enough for 17th of 20 teams. The team’s 72 goals conceded this year is already the second time that the team has given up at least 60 in a season.
Much of Orlando City’s struggles in the back over the past four years can be chalked up to the lack of a consistent back four. In the past four seasons, the Lions haven’t had one defender that has started consistently over two seasons. The closest player to do so was Seb Hines, who started 44 of a possible 68 games in 2015 and 2016. However, he was relegated to Orlando City B for the majority of the 2017 season and was gone the subsequent off-season.
Orlando City fired Adrian Heath midway through the 2016 season and hired former Real Salt Lake and New York City FC coach Jason Kreis. After a half season in charge, the club made drastic changes to the team, including the back line. The club brought in former U.S.-international Jonathan Spector, who had a long career in England, to anchor the back line. For the outside backs, the club brought in veteran MLS defender Donny Toia and Swiss international Scott Sutter while the lone carryovers Tommy Redding and José Aja, along with on-loan center back Léo Pereira, split time beside Spector. The Lions did concede fewer goals in 2017 than the year before, but with little offensive output recorded a -19 goal differential, the worst since joining MLS.
Following the 2017 season, Kreis stated that there would be major changes to the roster and that started with the defense. Aja, Redding, and Pereira all departed and the club brought in five new defenders in Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek, Lamine Sané, Chris Schuler, and RJ Allen. Sutter would remain in the lineup, though he spent a large part of this season injured, but Toia wouldn’t even see the bench for much of the 2018 season, replaced by El-Munir.
The defensive troubles in 2018 were seen early with lapses in defensive responsibility resulting in goals for D.C. United and Minnesota United. Following a 2-0 loss to New York City FC in the third game of the season, the Lions went on a six-game winning streak, but it was obvious it wasn’t going to last forever. In those six games, the team only recorded one clean sheet and conceded multiple goals in three of those games. While fans were mostly jovial to see some success for the first time in several years, the weaknesses in the back were glaring. The first two wins in that stretch were 4-3 over the New York Red Bulls and 3-2 over the Portland Timbers, both coming with some fortunate officiating for the Lions.
The six-game win streak was immediately followed by a nine-game losing streak. The Lions were only shut out once in the first five of those nine games and were even late in two of them. But that’s when another weakness of the team appeared.
On June 9, the Lions traveled north of the border to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps at BC Place. After falling behind in the first half, Sacha Kljestan equalized in the 64th minute. Alphonso Davies gave the home side the lead back in the 76th minute, which led to the Lions’ collapse. The deflated team conceded a penalty, which Kei Kamara netted in the 85th minute, and Yordy Reyna scored a fourth in the 87th.
The situation occurred again in Los Angeles against LAFC four games later. This time the Lions had gone down by two when Sacha Kljestan pulled one back in the 59th minute. It looked like they had equalized in the 72nd minute when a Dom Dwyer goal was wrongly called offside, and that led to the collapse. Adama Diomande scored 10 minutes later and Diego Rossi finished it off two minutes after that. As it pertains to conceding 72 goals so far this season, this was the biggest problem for the team because it turned conceding two or three goals in a game into four or five goals.
Orlando City setting the new league record for most goals conceded in a single season should not be a surprise to anyone that has watched this team. The constant turnover of defenders has meant that, even if the team were healthy, it cannot put a back four on the field that has played a significant number of games together. Making matters worse, and ultimately leading to becoming the worst defensive team in MLS history, has been the inability to respond when getting knocked down. In many instances this season, once something went wrong, the team would collapse and the game was quickly put out of reach.
The Lions have conceded three more goals than the San Jose Earthquakes this year so it appears the newly set record is safe. With two games remaining in the season, they’ll now attempt not to set another record in futility, this time for worst-ever goal differential.