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View from the End Line: A Look back at the Final Four

Let’s revisit the September plus Decision Day predictions that may have sealed James O’Connor’s fate.

MLS: Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

And just like that, the 2019 MLS regular season has come to an end. Another season in MLS is in the books, and another season below the playoff line has come to fruition for Orlando City.

While this club seems to be struggling to find the right recipe to be successful in MLS, I continue to try to find the right recipe to make these predictions. Here in the next few weeks, I will compile my end of the year predictions totals and see just how I did for the year. For now, let’s take a look back at September plus one, and see how clearly bad this last batch of guesses really was.

Sept. 14 vs. New England Revolution

Prediction: 2-1 Lions.

Actual: 3-3 Draw.

In a match that looked like some bad juju had followed the club, the Lions battled back from a 3-1 deficit at halftime to pull a draw out of the air at home. In the 15th minute, Tesho Akindele tried to clear a cross coming into the Lion’s box, but he unfortunately he sent it off the goal post and into his own net. Seven minutes later, Mauricio Pereyra assisted Nani to bring the Lions square. Before halftime, Carles Gil added two assists to Cristian Penilla and Gustavo Bou to put the Revs up 3-1. The second half was much more controlled by the Lions, with Nani assisting Dom Dwyer in the 47th minute, and then notching his second goal in the 54th. The Lions then held on and add one point at home, or dropped two points at home again, depending on your feelings.

Sept. 21 at Houston Dynamo

Prediction: 2-1 Lions.

Actual: 2-1 Dynamo.

Well, it would appear that I at least got the scoreline correct, although the names by the numbers reversed. It was the first of two road games for the Lions to close out 2019, and another absolute must-win match that ended after getting our hopes up so high. Dwyer headed a cross from Pereyra in the sixth minute. Dom was the only real offensive threat for the club all match, and his one goal did not stand the test of the match clock. Houston was the more threatening team for the entire second half, notching 10 of its 15 shots in the second half, and unfortunately, two of them found the back of the net. The loss sunk the Lions chances of making the playoffs, but there was still a glimmer a hope.

Sept. 29 at FC Cincinnati

Prediction: 3-1 Lions.

Actual: 1-1 Draw.

I really thought this was a lock. It all went south pretty quickly after the whistle blew to start the match. Joao Moutinho went down in the 13th minute with a calf injury and was replaced a minute later by Kyle Smith. The rest of the match did not go any better. In fact, the Lions struggled for much of the match, desperation seeming to fill both clubs as the minutes wound down. FCC went up a goal in the 40th minute, and seemed poised to shut out the Lions. Once again, Orlando City’s bench came to the rescue as Benji Michel buried a Nani cross that Dwyer flicked backwards with his head. The Cardiac Cats once again showed up, this time helping to hand Cincinnati the record of most goals allowed in an MLS regular season campaign. At least the Lions got that off their back, right?

Oct. 6 vs. Chicago Fire

Prediction: 3-2 Lions.

Actual: 5-2 Fire.

This one is still fresh, still hurts, and is still playing out in my mind. The Lions came out quickly and fiercely in this match, which only helped to define just how far beneath the red line the two teams would finish. Michel assisted on Tesho Akindele’s goal in the fifth minute, only to have Chicago pull even on an unfortunate Kyle Smith own goal. The sides played fairly evenly through the rest of the first half. There was a massive scare in the 37th minute as Robin Jansson accidentally collided with Smith’s knee after being shoved in midair by CJ Sapong. He was stretchered off as a precautionary measure as the stadium held its collective breath.

As numerous people have lamented all season long, a completely different Orlando City side came out of the tunnel for the second half. After what should have been an obvious penalty kick for the Lions, the Fire went on an offensive tear and put three goals on the scoreboard in the span of seven minutes. In the 74th minute, Michel pulled one back. The remaining minutes were chippy to say the least. The fouls got harder, and for a time, it certainly looked as though the ref had lost a bit of control. The Lions were in a hole, and it was too deep to get out of.

That’s how my final month (plus) of predictions ended up in 2019. It would have been nice to have been able to make some more for a few more weeks but that’ll have to wait. The final death throes of the season ended the tenure of James O’Connor and made me throw my divination equipment in the trash because it was clearly not working.