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View from the End Line: May a Critical Month for Orlando City

The month of May could define the Lions’ 2019 season.

MLS: Toronto FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

This past weekend’s match was a tough one for many reasons. It signified another home loss, another loss to an Eastern Conference rival, and it started May on the wrong side of victory.

Entering the match, Orlando City was sitting sixth in the East, not the best place, but certainly not the worst. The weekend saw a majority of the Eastern Conference squads playing other teams from the East, a great weekend to make headway towards a higher position on the table. Unfortunately, the Lions came out completely flat in the second half against the visitors from Toronto FC and yielded two goals.

The good news is that there is plenty of the month left yet, but the problem is that with the Lions’ slow start to the 2019 campaign, finding form and gaining points this month will be absolutely key if history has taught us anything.

The key concern is the fixtures still to come. Take a look at the image below for the remainder of the month’s fixtures.

The club has eight days to prepare for its first trip to Atlanta this season. Although I hesitate to spend too much time discussing Atlanta United, it is a necessary evil. Being the 2018 MLS Cup champions, Atlanta was involved in the Concacaf Champions League at the beginning of the season. Due to this, they have played fewer matches in MLS play than the majority of teams, but have played as many or more matches in total. Atlanta United has had a tough run in MLS play, but has started to settle down and play the way it did last season.

There is still a bit of chaos in Atlanta, and Orlando would be smart to study hard for this one. Atlanta will be coming off short rest and looking forward to two more games after this Sunday’s match against the Lions. Atlanta has been vulnerable this season at home, and a draw or win versus Orlando’s nearest rival Sunday would be a big step.

Then there’s a short rest before the Lions see themselves flying across the states to an away match against Seattle Sounders. Seattle looks good at this point as well, having only lost once this season, on the road. Orlando has been decent on the road this season so far, but travel to Washington is a different story. This may be a match to hope that the goal differential doesn’t get blown apart.

Then we get to the two-match home stand, where the club once again has the opportunity to reset and begin again to “Defend the Fortress.” First up are the new kids from FC Cincinnati. This should — and I mean should — be points for the club, but it’s the third game in eight days with two cross-country flights involved (thanks, MLS schedule makers!).

I think the previous seasons have shown us that nothing is certain. I would easily call this match a must-win, especially considering that looking at the opponents in May, this is the one that appears to be the “easiest” match of the month. And then comes something that so many this season have had problems with.

Five days after we welcome the new kids on the block, the Lion comes to Orlando to face the Lions. As with most of his trips around the country, I am sure Zlatan Ibrahimovic will have some lovely words and amazing hype videos in the week leading up to his visit, and I am also sure there will be way too many Ibra shirts on display in the stadium on match day. The good news is that the home side has won every meeting between these two clubs. The bad news is that the LA Galaxy are playing very well this season. The Galaxy also play two of Orlando’s rivals just above us in the standings in the weeks prior. Again, the club needs to return to defending home turf and must secure points from this match.

OCSC’s Eastern Conference foes, those currently just above the Lions in the standings, have some tough schedules ahead of the them. The Columbus Crew are facing the two top squads in MLS currently, according to the Supporters Shield standings. New York City FC has to face LAFC and then Columbus. Toronto, in the Concacaf Champions League boat with Atlanta, has a very rough remainder of May, still on the schedule to play six more matches before June.

The Montreal Impact have a tough schedule, but not as difficult as the aforementioned clubs. D.C. United is in a similar spot to Montreal, although D.C. is looking at more road matches than home fixtures. The current leaders in the East, the Philadelphia Union, have what appears to be the least traumatic schedule in that three of the four remaining May fixtures are home matches — all in a row to close out the month. The Eastern Conference is somewhat of a schedule nightmare for most teams this month, and any squad that can capitalize on points stands a good chance of jumping up multiple spots in the standings.

The summer is almost upon us. Yes, I know, it is already getting hot outside, the afternoon thunderstorms have started, and the humidity is rising. History has shown that June, July, and August are very difficult months for the Lions and they haven’t been able to find a way to utilize the heat and humidity of home to their advantage. If history is going to repeat itself, May, with its five matches, should stand as a critical month to gain points. The boys have already dropped three, and now they truly cannot afford to drop many more.