Emblazoned across the back of every 2019 Orlando City home jersey are the words “Defend The Fortress.” It is a timely reminder for fans and players alike of how much of a factor home advantage can be in MLS. Yet, despite the call to arms, the Lions are struggling to live up to the sentiment.
The team has now played six of its 17 scheduled regular season home games at Orlando City Stadium. Worryingly, Toronto FC handed the Lions their third home defeat of the season at the weekend in a half-empty stadium. Most notably, all three losses have been to fellow Eastern Conference opposition. The only two teams to have fared worse at home so far are the Colorado Rapids and New England Revolution with 60% and 66.7% of home games resulting in losses, respectively.
That’s not great company when you consider the Rapids recently fired Anthony Hudson as head coach last week after less than 18 months in charge and his counterpart up in Foxborough, Brad Friedel, remains firmly on the hot seat in his first managerial position. The league average for home losses is 26.5%, with seven of 23 teams (Portland Timbers will not play its home opener until June because of stadium renovations) remaining unbeaten at home across the league. New York City FC is the only representative from the Eastern Conference on that list.
There’s only a slight improvement in the winning rankings as Orlando has a 33.3% home win record, better than six teams in MLS. Three of those teams — FC Cincinnati, Atlanta United, and New York City FC — are in the East. The LA Galaxy are the only team with a 100% home win record this year, with the league average at 48.9%. The Lions are also fifth to last for their points-per-game average, only securing 1.17 per home match — significantly lower than the 1.71 league average and better than only Colorado, New England, FC Cincinnati and the Vancouver Whitecaps.
In terms of goals, the Lions are averaging 1.5 per game, only slightly short of the 1.62 average and good enough for 14th in the league, with six teams averaging more than two goals per game at home. It’s not a strong figure by any means but, as has been the case for the Lions in recent history, the defensive figures are the bigger issue. Orlando City concedes an average of two goals per home game, the second-worst home defensive record in MLS behind the Rapids, who concede 2.8 per game. The league average in this instance is a stout 1.28. Also worth noting is that the Lions are one of seven teams to have a negative goal differential at home in 2019.
Given the aforementioned figures, it’s unusual to consider that Orlando seems to actually be playing okay. The Lions rank sixth in both shots taken and shots inside the box, seventh for completed crosses, have the eighth fewest turnovers in possession, are 12th with 50% possession, and 15th overall for passing accuracy, with a respectable 80.1%.
Defensively, the Lions concede the ninth-fewest shots but other areas aren’t so strong. They only make the 15th most tackles, which is not great for a team that sees its opposition have the ball 50% of the time, and they are 17th for interceptions per game despite James O’Connor’s early attempts to implement a higher press. Despite only conceding the ninth-fewest shots, Orlando City ranks number one across the entire league in saves per home match with 4.2, suggesting that off-season signing Brian Rowe is being called into action far more than he should and hasn’t seen enough protection from his back line.
It’s by no means time to panic just yet — especially considering the three home losses are to teams that got off to hot starts in Toronto FC, D.C. United, and the Montreal Impact — but James O’Connor and his players need to capitalize on the crucial nature of home-field advantage to reach the playoffs. And while the in-game stats may appear fine, there comes a point where taking shots and completing passes isn’t going to cut it.
Of course, it would be more of a worry if Orlando wasn’t completing passes and taking shots and it’s promising that the performances have already been a drastic improvement from last year. But now that the team has managed to revert to the mean, the Lions must now take that next step if they stand a chance of making the postseason.