We’ve become accustomed to Evan Weston telling us on the Orlando City broadcast that “a point on the road isn’t a bad result,” and he’s not wrong — not in a vacuum void of context anyway. MLS has one of the most significant home advantages of any league in the world with visiting teams averaging less than one point per game in 2019 compared to the 1.8 average taken at home.
But on Saturday, Lions fans were struck with a case of déjà vu as they watched their team concede in stoppage time to blow a lead that would have seen them move up in the standings. Indeed, Orlando City is now winless on the road in the last five outings. It sounds better to frame it as only one defeat in that time — the 4–1 pounding in New England. But of the four draws, every single one has come with Orlando leading in the closing moments of the game.
Minnesota scored in the 92nd minute, Toronto in the 77th minute, the Portland Timbers in the 82nd minute, and the Philadelphia Union in the 90th minute. That’s eight points surrendered late on in four of the last five road trips — eight points that we pray do not prove fatal come Oct. 6 to a team that currently sits outside the playoff places not on points, but on the number of games won tiebreaker. That’s eight points that would see Orlando City sitting not in eighth but in third.
It’s becoming a frighteningly regular occurrence. The team has only lost points in the final 15 minutes of games five teams this season, with week two’s stoppage-time equalizer in Chicago the only one to occur outside of the last five away trips.
Looking at the reverse, the team has earned points in the final 15 minutes only three times, with all three coming at home. April was a fruitful month as the Lions entered the final 15 minutes against Colorado 3–2 down but scored two late goals to earn a win while, in the next home game, Nani scored the only goal — an 88th-minute winner against Vancouver to take all three points. The only other time Orlando has earned points in that time was another 1–0 victory, this time against Columbus Crew in July. It works out as a seven-point gain when at home but thanks to the 10 total points dropped away from home in the closing quarter of an hour, the Lions are at a three-point deficit thanks to their newfound inability to close.
However, late concessions are not the only things plaguing the team. The team is currently on its longest unbeaten run in league play since last year’s infamous six-game win streak. Yet despite the team’s healthy propensity for avoiding defeat, it is still yet to win consecutive league games under James O’Connor since the Irishman took over last July. That’s a stretch of 44 games in which Orlando fans have not seen their team follow up a win with another three points in MLS play. In fact, the team has followed up 64% of its wins by losing the next match.
Furthermore, the team was mere seconds away from keeping back to back shutouts, something it has only ever done once before in MLS back in June 2017. Remarkably and somewhat miraculously, the Lions are currently on pace to give up a team-best 44 goals — not only a vast improvement from last year’s league record-setting 74 goals (a record expansion team FC Cincinnati is currently on pace to break), but also significantly better than the team’s previous best of 56 set back in 2015’s inaugural season.
Not enough has been made of Orlando’s defensive solidity this season, likely sullied by the aforementioned lack of consistency and frustration at the regularity with which the team concedes lead-changing goals.
That isn’t to say that this is a significant outlier. MLS has a higher number of goals (3.05 per game) than the top five European leagues (2.76 per game average in 2018/19) or Liga MX (2.68). Meanwhile, the average number of shutouts in MLS is significantly decreased, with 46% this year — up from 43% in 2018, but still short of the 54% average in the top five European leagues and 56% in Liga MX.
Orlando has recorded seven shutouts for a rate of 26% and, while it is somewhat short of the league average of 46%, the points dropped is just as much if not more of a lack of offensive output than it is a lack of shutouts. With an average of 3.05 goals per game, you can’t expect to only score once and come away with a result.
That’s the final reoccurring storyline I’ll speak on today: Orlando’s wastefulness in front of goal. That isn’t to say this is an entire team problem. Expected goal (xG) data suggests Orlando is in fact marginally outperforming its expected value by 2.5 goals, which is par for the course across the entire season. However, of the top four most inefficient players in MLS, two of them currently play for Orlando City. Dom Dwyer is ranked as the third most wasteful player in MLS according to American Soccer Analysis’ individual Expected Goals table, with Robinho, who spent part of the season with Columbus, just behind him in fourth. Ben Baer highlighted at the weekend that Dwyer is currently at a career low for big chance conversion, scoring only three of his 14 big chances (a big chance being one with a high xG value, usually in a one-on-one scenario or from very close range). Perhaps an even bigger concern that exacerbates inefficiency when the chances do eventually come along is the fact that they are simply few and far between. The Lions have registered the third fewest shots and fourth fewest shots on goal per game in MLS this season.
Let’s hope that the team can banish these demons in the late season run in and overcome the biggest reoccurring storyline of all: Orlando City not making the playoffs.