For 60 minutes, I think the fandom thought that Friday was going to be the day. I know I did. The Lions had the Five Stripes on their heels for a good majority of the match. Although Atlanta is certainly a squad that is happy to bunker down and counter attack, the Lions came out and pressed Atlanta from the onset and maintained some excellent possession. Then something happened, as it typically does with this club, and things went south. As much as it hurt to lose again, it hasn’t changed my mind about this club at all, and here is why.
The 2020 MLS season will be a big change for the Lions. We can keep waxing poetic about the oddity that is the contract structure within MLS until we can’t stand it, and it will get us nowhere. James O’Connor is still bound by numerous contracts that were not of his choice. Certain aspects of the club are to his credit, namely the back line and defensive changes that have helped this club go from a record-setting worst in the league in terms of goals against, to one of the stingiest to score on. Lamine Sané and Robin Jansson have been god-sent, and Brian Rowe has been equally positive. The last few matches have shown the versatility of the defense, and the club is certainly showing a greatly improved defensive shape, mentality, and vision.
This club never needs to worry about defensive midfielders. except possibly trying to figure out which ones to field, which ones travel, and which to rest. Also, it will get even more complicated once Cristian Higuita returns from injury. Hopefully this will be sooner rather than later as a few of Orlando’s starters have been called up for international duty, and rightfully so; however, considering the playoff picture, I might want to have a serious sit-down with the players, as well as the coaches and staff of the individual national teams, and see just how critical the players’ participation is. If the national teams are just going through a run of friendlies, then it would not be a big stretch for City, players, and coaches on both sides to have those conversations.
They are each so good, and have individually contributed to what this club has overcome and is trying to become. I was talking to a good friend about this the other day and preaching about the need for a solid defensive midfielder that sees the pitch as theirs and works to keep it that way — similar to how N’golo Kante played for Leicester City FC. I am in no way trying to say that Orlando is one of those 5000:1 clubs at the moment, but the Lions do have some very special defensive-minded mids to help hold things down.
And then we get to the attack, and my blood pressure immediately goes up, my ears get red, and I calmly wait for the heart attack or aneurysm to numb the pain. There is no need to be specific, no need to call out individual players, just a need to loudly bring up that this club has one major problem, and that is finishing. I do not understand it, I do not get it, and I certainly have no idea where the issue lies.
Just look at the numbers, there are 19 teams in MLS that have a better goals-for number than OCSC at the moment. Want to get a clear picture of why this club is currently out of the playoffs, look no further than the above stat. A great defense will help you win wars, but it will not get you above the red line in October. Goals get you above the red line, and it is the last piece of the puzzle to solve.
I am extremely interested in the coming off-season for this club, and MLS as a whole. I think the Lions will look pretty similar to the roster we know today, with maybe a few big exceptions. As much as I would like to give some bold predictions on that, it most certainly is not the time. What it is time for is what I have tried to do all season long — what I have done for every season since I found this club, and it found me. I will yell, scream, and bounce and make sure that every player on pitch who wears the Orlando City crest knows that I am there to support them.
This club is so close to finally lifting itself out of the quagmire it put itself in you can feel it. The Lions are clawing their way out of a hole right before our eyes, and as difficult as it is to watch and bear witness to, the rewards that come with it will make all those who have manned the Wall and Exploria Stadium understand exactly what it means to support something.
My faith is unwavering. My trust is true. I am unfazed in my love for this club.