This time last season, Orlando City was in the middle of a hot start to the 2017 season. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction, and then it all came crashing down. We do not need to rehash that fall from grace right now, but we do need to try to remember that euphoric feeling we all had while the club was riding high in the Eastern Conference. Fast forward to today, and the club has had the exact opposite start. Now do you see why I asked you to remember the euphoria?
Personnel issues have most likely led the the team’s slow start, and by personnel issues I am referring to the litany of injuries, late arrivals, and match fitness issues that the club began the season with. If rumors out of training, and if the 18 for the New York Red Bulls match yesterday was any indication, the club might be on the back side of trouble and cruising towards 100% availability. Finally. What will this mean heading into April, a month with a decent schedule, with two home and two away matches, with three of the four opponents being Western Conference teams? Here are my predictions.
April 8 vs. Portland Timbers
The Portland Timbers are currently sitting towards the bottom of the West. Portland also comes to Otown in their fifth straight road game to open the 2018 MLS season. This will be the fourth time the Lions have faced the Timbers, holding a record of 2-1-0 against them. Unfortunately, the last meeting was a rather unfortunate match that saw Orlando finish with only nine men on the pitch after Jonathan Spector and PC Giro were both shown red. Fanendo Adi, Diego Valeri, and Sebastián Blanco will be a handful for the back line, but we are talking about a back line much improved from the last meeting between these two squads.
Prediction: 2-1 Orlando City.
April 13 at Philadelphia Union
Currently sitting mid table in the East, the previous two matches for the Philadelphia Union have been long haul away trips to Colorado and San Jose. Philly holds the slight edge in the series, with a 3-2-2 record against the Lions. As with the Portland match, the last meeting is certainly one that should be forgotten, or remembered, depending on how you look at it. The Lions lost to Philadelphia 6-1 in the last match of the 2017 MLS season. Sure, the match was fairly meaningless in terms of playoff possibilities for Orlando City, and it appeared that Head Coach Jason Kreis experimented a bit with starters and formation as he ended the 2017 season, but a 6-1 loss in MLS is inexcusable to many.
Again, the defenders will be tested as they face CJ Sapong and David Accam, while the attacking side will have to deal with Andre Blake minding net.
Prediction: 2-2 draw.
April 21 vs. San Jose Earthquakes
The Quakes are another team currently sitting well below the line in the West, but a lot of this can change as we progress into April. Interesting fact with this match is the Lions have never lost to the San Jose Earthquakes; however, they have also never won. In the three meetings between these clubs, every match has ended in a draw, and there has not been a clean sheet, so you know the goals are coming. The big concern will be keeping a handle on Chris Wondolowski, a player that just seems to always find himself in the right position to score.
As of the time of writing this, San Jose has been giving up goals, and if that trend continues, which I think it will, then City has a great chance to take advantage of the cross-country travel that the Earthquakes must make, and grab three points at home. The offense should really be clicking by this point and should be wreaking havoc.
Prediction: 3-1 Orlando City.
April 28 at Colorado
The Colorado Rapids, like the Earthquakes, are at the time of this writing sitting well down the standings in the West. Even more so with this match prediction, things could change very drastically, as this match is four weeks out. A month is almost a lifetime when it comes to soccer. Playing at altitude is always a concern, especially a mile high. If you have never been at altitude, it can really be shocking to the system; however, I believe the club has some fancy technology to help the players and staff acclimate quickly.
Any time you play the Rapids, one prominent name comes to mind. Tim Howard. He can be an absolute beast in net. In MLS regular-season matches, Orlando City has not lost to the Rapids, winning twice and drawing once. The City back line will need to be very mindful of the forward pair of Joe Mason and Dominique Badji, and a typically flooded midfield as Colorado has been playing a 3-5-2 formation. Points in April are key, and this match should be open for City to bring 3 home.
Prediction 3-1 Orlando City.
I don’t mind being out on a limb this month with these predictions. Many contributors here tried to warn the fan base that due to late arrivals to camp, injuries, and fitness the Lions were going to get off to a slow start, and most likely would be trying to hold on until after the international break. Well, April is right after the break, except there was that match with the New York Red Bulls yesterday, which the Lions won.
This is also not, I repeat, not an April fools joke. This team should be building and growing at an exponential pace through April, barring a rash of major injuries again, and the Lions know that they need to acquire points as quickly as possible now before the World Cup begins. Ten points, folks, 10 points is my prediction for April. I’m also going to predict that we see more 4-2-3-1 in April, because it shows itself to work. Bold predictions I know, but that is what this team needs to do in April.
The Lions need a big shift in points per match, and it needs to start now, or else the point differential will become daunting and that demon that always stays just out of touch. The Lions need to grab destiny by the horns and not leave their fate in the hands of others.