It’s been a tale of two seasons for Orlando City so far in 2018. After rolling off an impressive six-game winning streak, the Lions have lost their last nine. A big impact on both streaks has been the team’s response to adversity during games.
A cornerstone of Orlando City’s six-game winning streak was coming from behind, doing so in four of the six games. The two that exemplified the fight during the streak were the first pair against the New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers.
Against the Red Bulls, the Lions fell behind twice and conceded a late equalizer, which could’ve seen the team fall apart. However, City responded each time with quick goals, ending with Josué Colmán’s 86th-minute winner. A week later, everyone counted the team out after a lackluster 80 minutes, but the inclusion of Chris Mueller and Stefano Pinho changed things as the Lions scored three goals in 10 minutes, capped by an 87th-minute goal by Dom Dwyer.
While not as quick or dramatic as the first two games in the streak, the most recent two league wins the Lions have had in 2018 saw the team fall behind early, only to come back later on. On the road against the Colorado Rapids and at home against Real Salt Lake, the Lions conceded early before scoring multiple second-half goals to continue the winning streak.
As positive as the response to adversity was during the winning streak, it’s striking how negative the team’s response has been during the current nine-game losing streak in league play. While not existent in every game, the Lions have shown a tendency to fall apart when things don’t go their way. In three recent games, the team has been trailing by just a goal until the lead doubles, at which point the deficit is extended beyond reach.
The first noticeable occurrence of this trend started on June 9 in Vancouver. Kei Kamara’s first-half goal gave the Whitecaps the lead before Sacha Kljestan equalized in the 64th minute. Alphonso Davies gave the home side the lead once again before the wheels fell off nine minutes later. Kamara doubled the lead via a penalty in the 85th minute which was quickly followed by an 87th-minute goal by Yordy Reyna and a 90th-minute goal by Nicolas Mezquida. While falling behind by two goals is difficult to come back from with five minutes remaining, it quickly became a four-goal deficit, ending the game.
The same mindset that saw the Vancouver game quickly slip away is what troubled the Lions last week against Atlanta United. The performance was certainly nothing to write home about but the Lions only trailed by one with 35 minutes remaining. Miguel Almiron’s 55th minute goal doubled the lead and Ezequiel Barco’s goal three minutes later put the game away.
A quick succession of goals saw the Vancouver and Atlanta games fall beyond reach but no game has shown the Lions fall apart more than Saturday night’s affair in Los Angeles. After Los Angeles FC took a 2-0 lead, Sacha Kljestan scored on a terrific individual effort in the 59th minute. Just 13 minutes later, the Lions seemed to equalize before Justin Meram was controversially ruled offside after review. But that’s when things turned sour.
Feeling hard done by after having what appeared to be a good goal taken away, poor clearances resulted in an 82nd-minute goal by the hosts. It’s unclear whether or not the ball actually crossed the line, but the goal was given regardless and apparently without review. Down two, the Lions once again completely fell apart, conceding the fourth goal just two minutes later.
It’s unknown whether or not the Lions would’ve been able to come back and claim points in any of these three games, and they’re unlikely to have against Vancouver and LAFC, where the goals were scored very late. Regardless, the team fell apart in each of these three games as the succeeding goals put the game away for the opponents.
It’s been an odd season for Orlando City as a six-game winning streak saw the team climb up to third in the standings, immediately followed by a nine-game losing streak which has seen the Lions fall well below the red line. There are many things that have contributed to both streaks, including the difficulty of the schedule, but a major factor has been how the team responded to adversity. If the Lions can’t find their earlier resolve, the league record 12-game losing streak may soon be broken.