With the season almost a month away I thought I would take the time to highlight a few games on Orlando City SC’s schedule that will probably be very tough tests for the Lions. Actually, most of the team’s schedule will be difficult based on the Lions’ perceived league-worst strength of schedule for 2019, but perhaps part of that stems from the fact that they don’t get to play themselves and only get to play last year’s bad Western Conference teams once each.
Most of the games follow a few common themes that will be pretty easy to pick out. By no means are any of these games unwinnable, but I believe they’ll be tougher than the other games on Orlando’s schedule.
Sunday, May 12 at Atlanta United
First on the list is a match against the defending champions — a game that would most likely be a stern challenge regardless of who the champion in question is. Add in the fact that the team in question is Atlanta, a team the Lions have never beaten, and the fact that the game is on the road, and the prospects get a bit tougher. That being said, it won’t be an impossible task. Orlando does have two draws against the team from Georgia, with the most recent one being a thrilling 3-3 draw at Mercedes-Benz Stadium back in 2017. Last season was not as kind to the Lions though, with a pair of 2-1 losses sandwiching a 4-0 drubbing in Atlanta.
Wednesday, May 15 at Seattle Sounders
A tilt against a Seattle team that finished second in the West by just three points wouldn’t be easy regardless of the time and place of the match. There are a few factors that will make it even more difficult though. The game is on a Wednesday, giving the Lions less time to prepare and, to make matters worse, the game is in Seattle, meaning that Orlando will be on a short week and traveling just about as far as possible to take on one of the best teams in the league.
Seattle is also another team that Orlando has struggled mightily against, with an all-time record of 0-3-1. The Sounders also don’t exactly have the easiest stadium to go and play at either. Barring a meeting in the MLS Cup final (which, given Orlando’s history, seems...unlikely) it’ll be the Lions’ only chance this year to finally take all three points off Seattle.
Thursday, July 18 at Portland Timbers
Much like traveling to Seattle, going all the way to Portland can be tough for teams on the East Coast. While matters could be worse, like having the game on a Wednesday instead of a Thursday, it’ll still be a cross country game on a short week against the MLS Cup runners-up. While the Lions won last year’s contest in Orlando, 3-2, the team’s last trip to Portland went decidedly differently, as the men in purple slumped to a 3-0 loss. The game is also in July which wouldn’t mean much at all for most teams in MLS, but Orlando has a positively dreadful record during the summer months. All in all, the odds would seem to not necessarily be in the Lions’ favor for this one.
Sunday, July 21 vs New York Red Bulls
Fourth on the list is a home contest against the New York Red Bulls in a game that will finish out an absolutely brutal stretch that sees the Lions play three games in nine days, including the aforementioned game in Portland. The game against the Timbers is part of the reason for this game making the list. The Lions will be crisscrossing the country and flying home to Orlando City stadium after the game in the Pacific Northwest.
Plus the Red Bulls aren’t exactly slouches, with the team finishing first in the East last year and only going out of the playoffs to eventual champions Atlanta. Being back at home might make things better, but the sheer amount of travel and high volume of games will probably make returning to the comfortable confines of the purple palace a more difficult prospect than normal.
Saturday, April 27 at New York City FC
Orlando City hasn’t scored a goal against the Pigeons in the last four meetings, going 0-4 in the series in that span and getting outscored, 10-0. What was once a series that the Lions controlled has changed dramatically since the third meeting of 2017. This match will be difficult not only because of NYCFC’s recent dominance in the series, but it’ll also be played on the road on the tiny baseball field surface of Yankee Stadium. The hosts have a unique home-field advantage in the Bronx, where they lost only once in 2018.
The Lions will have to figure out how to unlock NYCFC’s defense and that starts with figuring out midfielder Alexander Ring. The diminutive Finn shields his team’s back line like few other midfielders in MLS and has stolen quite a few good scoring chances from the Lions in recent match-ups between the teams by swooping in from behind and nicking the ball just before an Orlando City player could pull the trigger on a shot. It’s very difficult to win games when you don’t score a goal.
As you can see, the main themes I mentioned were short weeks, large amounts of travel, and very good opponents. For the most part, the schedule isn’t actually too horrible as far as extended time on the road or short weeks are concerned, although the stretch in July is the stuff of nightmares. Are there any games you think should have been included? Let me know in the comments below.