It seems like we’re just getting started on the 2019 MLS season but Orlando City has already completed a quarter of its matches for the year. The Lions are off to a 3-3-3 start and it could have been better than that but it also could have been worse. As the team enters the part of the year when it has traditionally wilted in spectacular fashion, it seems like the rebuilding Lions are more competitive in 2019 thus far and a 3-3-3 foundation is something the team could build on.
While the team isn’t scoring buckets of goals, it is gathering road points and it does seem to have a different energy in 2019 than it had during the horrific second half of last year. That could be down to the leadership and experience of captain Nani, having spent a full preseason under Head Coach James O’Connor, improved play from the midfield, all of the above, or any combination of those — or something else entirely.
Whatever the reason, it’s a good time to reflect on where the team is now and how it compares to seasons past. While past results are not an indicator of future performance — much like the stock market — comparing numbers is kind of my thing, so let’s take a look.
Here are the records of previous Orlando City teams after nine matches and how the season finished up:
Record after nine games: 2-4-3, 9 points.
Final record: 12-14-8, 44 points.
The inaugural MLS Lions started slowly, as one might expect, then played pretty decent soccer most of the 2015 season. Cyle Larin took the league by storm as a rookie with 17 goals and Kaká was in form, producing nine goals and seven assists. A late five-game winning streak pushed Orlando into playoff contention but City finished five points out of the final spot. The Lions’ 35 points over the final three-quarters of the 2015 season are the most the team has gained in that span in the team’s MLS existence.
Record after nine games: 2-2-5, 11 points.
Final record: 9-11-14, 41 points.
Orlando couldn’t quite get over the hump early, drawing five times in its first five games of 2016. The Lions fell behind in some of those contests and needed to rally, while they also blew an early lead against Chicago. One of those matches featured the infamous handball call on Servando Carrasco that in no way was a handball, which allowed the Revolution to equalize deep in stoppage time. Adrian Heath was fired after a six-match league unbeaten streak came to an end at FC Dallas on July 4, but that came on the heels of a U.S. Open Cup loss deep in extra time against PC and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Jason Kreis managed five wins the rest of the way and the Lions finished just one lousy point behind the final playoff spot, as the Philadelphia Union closed the year on 42 points (though they did hold the tiebreaker as well).
Record after nine games: 6-3-0, 18 points.
Final record: 10-15-9, 39 points.
The Lions got off to a strong start in 2017, bolstered by the move into Orlando City Stadium, where the team won its first five matches. All three of the losses in that first nine games came on the road (at Columbus, Toronto, and Houston). However, Orlando managed only four more wins the rest of the season and piled up draws in winnable games. City finished 10th in the Eastern Conference, a full 11 points adrift of the New York Red Bulls, the winners of the final playoff spot. Only D.C. United was worse in the east.
Record after nine games: 6-2-1, 19 points.
Final record: 8-22-4, 28 points.
The club’s best start ever after nine matches turned into its worst final record to date. The six-game winning streak was nice but a huge rash of injuries — especially on the back line — derailed the promising beginning to the season. With only two wins and nine total points over the final three-quarters of the season, the Lions finished dead last in the conference and a full 22 points behind the final playoff-spot holders, the Philadelphia Union. Only the four-win San Jose Earthquakes had a worse season in the 2018 MLS season. Kreis was fired after a loss to Montreal that included an own goal by Amro Tarek and a fifth-minute penalty kick conceded by Cristian Higuita. Bobby Murphy failed to win in his interim stint and O’Connor could muster only two wins and three draws for nine points over the second half of the season.
There’s not much we can really take away from these quarter-season numbers. Each Orlando City team has been worse than the one that preceded it, regardless of what kind of start the Lions got off to that year. The two best starts ironically led to the two worst seasons. A middling 3-3-3 mark to start 2019 doesn’t promise great things or an awful spiral of despair. Only time will tell how this year’s Lions will finish, but some may take solace in the team staying in playoff contention during the two years when Orlando started at or just below the .500 mark in the first nine games of the year.