April has been a good month for the Lions so far. The roster enters today’s match almost completely healthy — almost, as a few players have finally started to get some minutes, including Oriol Rosell. A few players did go down with knocks, with RJ Allen and Scott Sutter sustaining lower body injuries — which Allen has recovered from already — and Jonathan Spector re-entering concussion protocol.
The depth of the roster has been made aware to all, and as the season continues, the squad should continue to get better and better, both in the starting XI and those chosen to come in off the bench. I will not go in-depth into the actual results of April, but you can read all about it in a few days time as I revisit my predictions for the month. It goes without saying that points are absolutely critical in May, just like in April. So how does May look?
May 6 vs. Real Salt Lake
The Lions have faced Real Salt Lake once every season due to being in separate conferences. Orlando City is undefeated against RSL, drawing matches played in 2015 and 2016, and winning away at Rio Tinto Stadium last season in a 1-0 victory, thanks to a Will Johnson goal in the 17th minute. As of this writing, RSL are sitting just above the red line in the Western Conference. They have alternated home and away matches for the past six weeks, winning each home match, and losing each away match. The Lions handled themselves extremely well in April, and I see no reason why they wont ride that wave right into May beginning with this match in Orlando.
Prediction: 2-0 Orlando City.
May 13 vs. Atlanta United FC
The first of three matches against our closest geographic MLS opponent this season, with one more at home and one away to Mercedes-Benz Stadium later this season. I am waiting to see if this will truly become a deep rivalry, as it seems the media push for it has waned with the introduction of LAFC and Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy. The fans certainly enjoy it, if that is what you want to call it. Orlando City currently has a record of 0-1-2 against Atlanta.
Make no mistake, Atlanta looks very strong and will be one of the toughest matches the full team has faced to date this season. The back line and defensive midfield will have to be laser focused. Atlanta returned this season as much the same team as last season, just with a season under its belt now. The Lions have hopefully gelled by this point, the center back pair is working as one cohesive unit, and the team’s new found attack can keep some pressure on Atlanta.
Prediction: 3-2 Orlando City in a very hard fought match.
May 18 at Toronto FC
I am not sure what to say right now about Toronto FC, the reigning 2017 MLS champions. The Reds have certainly not looked like the juggernaut that it was last season. Could it be because of the focus early this season on the Concacaf Champions League, which they lost in penalty kicks? By the time Orlando and Toronto face off in Canada, will the Reds have regained and reset focus, or were the first couple months of the 2018 season what to expect for the remainder of the season?
The history between these two clubs is pretty one-sided. The two sides have faced off eight times, and Toronto has definitely come out the better side, going 6-1-1. Orlando City has one win in the series, back in 2016 on a Kaká penalty kick in the 100th minute. As with the Atlanta United prediction, the Lions are a different squad, and will be entering this match with a great deal of experience, and time for those late to the pitch.
Prediction: 2-2 draw.
May 26 vs. Chicago Fire
Looking a month out gets tougher and tougher as the season progresses. You never quite know when a team will wake up, or go to sleep for that matter. At the time of this writing, the Fire are sitting mid table in the East. The Lions and Fire have met a total of 11 times in all competitions, and seven times to date in MLS. Orlando is 2-1-4 in the series in MLS, with one of those draws being the absolutely courageous 0-0 nine-man stand at home last season after Rafa Ramos was given a red in the 26th minute and Antonio Nocerino was sent off in the 66th.
The defense will have its hands full again, as the matches between the sides have typically produced goals. Nemanja Nikolic is always a threat, and Dax McCarty in the midfield is, well, Dax. As with the above predictions, the Fire will be facing a vastly different Lions squad than in previous seasons.
Prediction: 3-0 Orlando City.
June looks to be a very tough month when it comes to the schedule. Orlando City has five matches. One of those is the second of the strange back-to-back games with the Montreal Impact, the only home match, on June 23. Orlando looks poised to gain a bunch of points in May. With the daunting June schedule ahead, and the loss of players to World Cup duty, it would certainly benefit Orlando City to take advantage of every opportunity presented, and there are certainly opportunities ahead.