Orlando City drew with the New England Revolution Saturday night in a game it really needed to win. It’s not the 3-3 result that will frustrate fans of the Lions, but that the team threw the game away, conceding two goals that were its own fault. It continues City’s trend of falling apart when it has an opportunity to stay in the playoff hunt.
Entering the final stretch of the 2015 season, Orlando City appeared to be well out of playoff contention before it rattled off a five-game winning streak to make it close. While the Lions were too far out at the beginning of that streak to make a legitimate run at sixth place, it showed that the team had the ability to make a late run if needed to qualify for the playoffs. However, that would be the last time the team would make such a push.
In 2016, Orlando City entered the final stretch of the season in a great position to make the MLS playoffs for the first time in club history, sitting just one point behind D.C. United for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Lions went on to gain just one point in their next five games, effectively ending their chance at qualifying for the postseason.
Saturday night, Orlando City had a similar opportunity to climb back into the playoff picture with a home win over the sixth-place Revolution. Despite losing 12 of their last 13, the Lions sat just six points behind their opponents entering the game. A victory would have moved them to within three points of the coveted sixth spot.
If the Lions had lost the game to a superior team, it would’ve been an understandable defeat, but it was the way they lost that leaves fans upset. In the eighth minute, Brandon Bye directed his throw in toward the front post, which was flicked on by Juan Agudelo. A ball that should’ve been easily gathered inexplicably snuck by Earl Edwards Jr. and into the Orlando City goal. Just over 10 minutes later, center back Shane O’Neill, as the last defender, had his pocket picked by Luis Caicedo, allowing Cristian Penilla a free chance on goal, which he used to beat Edwards.
Without these two crucial mistakes, the Lions likely would’ve come away from the game with all three points and would be in a much better position to reach the postseason. Instead, the team continues to sit six points back with 11 games to go, having played a game more than the teams around them.
Rather than being an anomaly, Saturday night’s performance has become the norm for the club. When its back is against the wall and it needs to come away with three points, the team seems to crumble with its poorest performance of the season. It appears that the change of coaches has not changed this trend.
The Lions were able to make a late comeback to steal a point from this one, keeping them six points behind the Revolution in the conference race. With 11 games to go, they technically could still make a late run and qualify for the MLS playoffs for the first time in club history. But Saturday night proved once again that the team is more likely to fall apart than come through when needed.