Decision Day is here, and the Orlando Lions vs. Chicago Fire match could possibly be the least meaningful of all matches being played, but only in terms of the outcome of the MLS conference playoff standings. Orlando will be having its own, very personal, Decision Day when the whistle blows at 4 p.m. this afternoon.
Playoffs are no longer on the line, but a great number of much more important things are. I have three expectations for today, which I present to you here in no particular order.
Decisions on Jobs
While writing this, I was at a complete loss as to how I think the club will come out for the match. Will the club choose to maintain the status quo and bring out a familiar starting XI with the goal of giving this season’s “traditional” starters a final curtain call at home? Do you play a traditional group, but come out in a much different formation and tactical setup to see how it could work next season? Does the club announce and start all the players that haven’t seen many minutes this season, throw them from the frying pan straight into the fire, and ask them to secure the final three points of the season? For the life of me, I can’t quite figure out which I think they will do, and which I want them to do. OK, that is not absolutely true. From a gut feeling perspective, I would really like to see the squad line up in a 3-5-2 formation, with Nani and someone else up top.
The first team should look at this match as playing for their jobs. There are some players on the roster that I believe are a lock to return next season, but as the final weeks ticked away, the list began to get shorter and shorter. I expect the club to be pretty active this off-season, continuing to build off the improvements of this season, but hopefully with enough foresight to just for a one-year adventure into the playoffs. The club needs to continue to build towards being a constant top club in the Eastern Conference — a dynasty that will last season after season — because it is about to get a bit more crowded down south.
The club will hopefully be out looking to bring in a dynamic striker, or help Dom Dwyer to shake the curse of the Baba Yaga, because the chances were certainly created this season, but not acted upon nearly enough. If you make the offense feared, it will help to remove some of the pressure on the defensive end as well. I don’t think there is much need to bolster the defense, unless an additional, athletic, center back can be picked up cheap (I know, it sounds ridiculous every time I say it too). It is time for the club to catch up to MLS 3.0, or at least upgrade to something closer to MLS 2.5.
Playing for Something
Does this club want to finish in 11th in the East, or go out with a bang and possibly finish eighth? It could happen if Orlando wins and the Montreal Impact and Columbus Crew both either lose or draw.
It is honestly that simple. Montreal and Columbus are both playing Eastern Conference teams (New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC, respectively). Those teams are trying to get to the No. 4 spot in the East and guarantee themselves at least a home match during the playoffs. With a little help, the Lions could see themselves move up in the East, for no other reason than for pride.
Both clubs will want to finish the year strongly. Chicago comes into this match with slightly better form than the Lions in their last four matches. Chicago has grabbed six points in its last four (1-0-3) and the Lions have three points out of their last four (0-1-3). Orlando will certainly need to be very hungry to improve upon the record in Exploria Stadium as it is currently the third worst in MLS at 6-7-3. Only the Vancouver Whitecaps (5-6-5) and FC Cincinnati (3-11-3) have worse home records, and also are individually the bottom clubs in their respective conferences. The Fire will be looking to end this season with a road win, giving themselves some confidence that their 2019 MLS away record of 1-10-5 — worst in the league — will be righted next season and was just a random abomination this year.
Frustration will be Heard
After five seasons, three coaches, changes in areas of the front office, OCB being on then off and on again, academy structure changes, a new stadium, and on and on, the fan base appears to be a bit more restless this time of year than years past — me included. So how do you vent that frustration, who do you direct it towards, and what is the appropriate delivery method to make sure your voice is heard? I have no idea how to answer any of those questions, but I do know this: I will absolutely not be changing my game day rituals, or how I cheer for the Lions today.
Every match this season, I have cheered, yelled, jeered, cursed (sorry to those sit around me, but know that I try to not use the really bad words), and tried to very loudly motivate the boys all season. If you are playing well, I will let you know; however, if you are not playing well, I will let you know just as loudly.
I will be saving my absolute rage venting for when the season is complete. Today is a day to let this club know I am with them until the end. There is a time and place for everything, but for me, the stands are not where I want to vent my season-long frustrations. I am sure that will not be the case for everyone. It is going to be another bittersweet end to another roller coaster season.
Once this season is really behind us, and we all have a while to critically look back at the 2019 campaign, I believe the outcome will show many more positives than negatives, and that the building blocks for 2020 will be fully apparent. It will then be a waiting game to see if the club commits to a plan it has put in front of all of us. Come Hell or high water, this off-season will be an honest barometer of where this club wants to go. That is when my feelings will be heard, not today.
Today will be a good day. We will be seeing our Orlando City family one last time this season — at home, on familiar grounds. We can end this season within the comfort of our own match day rituals, even finding new ones to shake things up at the last minute. Regardless of anything else, I have full confidence that the 18 players and all of the coaching staff members who exit that purple tunnel will have one thing on their minds, and that will be three points.
No draws, no come-from-behind, last-minute scrambles, and no giving up the lead in the dying minutes of a match. The sole focus will be to bring three points home to end the 2019 MLS campaign, and to sow the right seeds heading into MLS 2020.