I love that all of us here at The Mane Land have been able to write positively about the play Orlando City has shown. It’s been a bit since we’ve been that fortunate. But alas, I have to be the realist and start looking forward.
Orlando City has won six straight games and looks like a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference. But when you look at the quality of opponents, you would find them lacking. Other than the New York Red Bulls — which just thrashed NYCFC — every other team is sitting comfortably out of the playoff picture.
It’s early, but teams like San Jose and Colorado will most likely not be true tests of merit when it all comes down to the season. In any season, you need to take care of games you “should” win and the fact City has also taken care of business on the road is very encouraging. The distraction of winning games against “easy” competition can always get you wrapped up in false pretenses.
That’s why I’m excited for the next few weeks. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be telling. The next four matches are as follows:
- Home against Atlanta FC (currently first in the East).
- Away against Toronto FC (currently 10th).
- Home against Chicago (currently eighth).
- Away against New York City FC (currently second).
Now you may say, “Brandon there are only two out of four matches against playoff teams, why is it so tough?” All four of these teams are playoff contenders. A season is long and Toronto FC was admittedly focused on the Concacaf Champions League. Toronto has gotten off to a rough MLS start but is anyone here sitting back and saying Toronto won't be in the playoffs with the best player in MLS — Sebastian Giovinco — and the team’s two U.S. internationals?
When it comes to Chicago, this is a team that is a season removed from being the third-best team in the East. Again, a season is long and I know MLS is tough to gauge year-to-year but sleeping on a team that will fight for a playoff spot will come back to bite Orlando City.
The first match might be the most important if not only for the fact of the emotional aspect of beating Atlanta United FC. We all hate them, I get it. To take points against the top team in the East — maybe MLS — is going to be huge regardless. With a win against Atlanta, Orlando could be sharing the top spot, which is something we haven't seen since last year’s early season winning streak.
All that aside, this is an important stretch for City. I’m not going to say it’s monumental. I understand the ups and downs of a season. But I’m excited to see what this team will do against some better competition. This will be a great indicator of how far Orlando has come.
The recent run of matches has done exactly what it should: Help Orlando jell. Since all the injuries and suspensions, the Lions have had to learn each other on the fly. It hasn't been pretty, but this run has given Orlando what it had needed in terms of finding itself. It’s not done but it has been as good a development run as possible.
Jason Kreis and his team are still figuring things out, but the team is coming together much quicker than even I anticipated. Since nearly everyone has been back, City has looked formidable. I’d caution though that the team hasn't looked dominant other than the San Jose match (ignore the score). So this run is really going to test all the questions we had at the beginning of the season on whether or not the Lions can put it all together.
I’m personally looking for seven points out of this run. And that will be a tall ask. If the Lions come out with five, that will be a win in my book. The fact is MLS is tight and often unpredictable and this run of form that City has been on will be tested like it hasn't been tested so far this season.
I want to see losses, I want to see how the team bounces back from those with a full squad, and I expect some growing pains out of these next four matches. But this run will test the team in a way that is needed. The team needs to know where it sits among the Eastern elite. This could be a bit of a shock if it only gets one or two points, or it could be a catapult if the team takes 10 points or more.
Regardless, this team is about to be tested and given a good early season indication of where it is and where it can go.