As the international break comes to an end, and the U.S. Open Cup is getting ready to determine its final four, one thing has become dangerously obvious. Orlando City is about to enter a stretch of schedule that is not for the faint of heart. The Lions are looking at a stretch of nine matches over 32 days.
For those of you who have trouble with quick and simple math, like me (I know, the laser physicist has trouble with simple math), that’s a match every 3.56 days on average. Let’s break down the schedule and collectively gasp at the chaos that is about to ensue.
To close out June, Orlando City hits the road this Wednesday, June 26, to face D.C. United. Both teams will have played their last match in the U.S. Open Cup on the 19th; however, the results were the opposite. Where OCSC won its match to punch a ticket to the quarterfinals, D.C. fell 2-1 to New York City FC — a result that we will discuss in just a few moments. From there, I am going to assume that the team will go straight to Ohio, as the Lions are scheduled to play the Columbus Crew just three days later on June 29. Columbus will be coming in with a week’s worth of rest as their most recent match prior will be today, at home against Sporting Kansas City.
And then comes July.
From Columbus, the Lions will have fours days before they are due to play the Philadelphia Union at home on July 3, only to turn around and face the same team in Philly just three days later on July 6. How on Earth did anyone think that the scheduling algorithm was working correctly when it spit this out? Until a few days ago, the club was about to get a solid week to rest, but not anymore. In winning the USOC match against the Revs, the Lions will now face New York City FC in Exploria Stadium on July 10. That is already five matches in 14 days — all against Eastern Conference opponents and including a match that could send the boys onto the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup. And we aren’t done yet.
July 13 sees the Columbus Crew come to Orlando to face the Lions, giving the club a short spell of enjoying the comforts of home. Four days later, the Lions will make one of the longest away trips of the season when they visit the Portland Timbers on July 18. Having just flown from Portland to MCO, I hope they find a nice direct flight, because the options on connections from Portland to Orlando can get a little dicey with afternoon summer weather (the thermals flying over the Rockies can be more fun than a roller coaster).
A mere three days later on the 21st, Orlando is back home to host last season’s Supporters’ Shield winners, the New York Red Bulls. Finally, with the longest break of this stretch of matches, the Lions will travel north again to face the New England Revolution on July 27.
If there was ever a stretch of matches to test fitness, resolve, and a team’s depth, this would certainly be it. As players return from playing for country, it will certainly help with the depth questions. Recent knocks and injuries to Dom Dwyer, Cristian Higuita, and Dillon Powers could not have come at a worse time. Both Higuita and Powers have been clutch in recent matches for the club, and their current form will be missed.
Adam Grinwis has been solid in goal during both previous USOC matches, and I would not be surprised to see him get at least one more match over this stretch. Going for the USOC trophy will be a big push, but seven of the eight remaining matches are against Eastern Conference rivals, with only Columbus and New England currently below the Lions in the standings.
Every match bears so much weight over this 32-day stint. The club is going to be tested, and will need every able bodied player possible to come out of this gauntlet in the schedule in a better place than when it started. This stretch of matches will speak volumes about this club and where it wants to be.