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View from the Endline: Defending Exploria Stadium Must Be Priority No. 1 for Orlando City in 2020

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Win at home, or the playoffs will forever be a dream.

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

There is no flowery conjecture in this piece. No “everything is awesome, but it would be more awesome if,” and then some sentence about this player or that player. This is going to be a piece that simply lays out the one statistic that has been bothering me this season: if nothing else, Orlando City must find a way to improve its record at home and “defend the fortress” at all costs in 2020.

Numbers speak louder than words (the actual phrase is ‘actions speak louder than words,’ but considering that actions can be expressed in numerical terms, like force equals mass times acceleration {f=ma}, the statement holds the exact same weight). Below is a brief rundown of the Lions’ home record since joining MLS in 2015:

  • 2015: 7-5-5
  • 2016: 6-4-7
  • 2017: 7-5-5
  • 2018: 6-7-4
  • 2019: 6-7-3 (with one home match remaining on decision day)

Just in case those numbers all look weird and don’t make any sense to you, here is the list of the worst home records of teams that made the playoffs from the Eastern Conference in that same time frame:

  • 2015: 9-4-4 Columbus Crew in second place
  • 2016: 7-5-5 Montreal Impact in fifth place
  • 2017: 9-2-6 New York Red Bulls in sixth place
  • 2018: 9-6-2 Philadelphia Union in sixth place
  • 2019: TBD, but currently 7-5-4 New England Revolution (with one home match left in the season)

To make the playoffs, a team’s home record typically must be better than .500 and often significantly above that mark. To pile onto the issue, the second-worst home record to make the playoffs in each year is as follows:

  • 2015: 9-2-6 New England Revolution in fifth place
  • 2016: 8-5-4 Philadelphia Union in sixth place
  • 2017: 10-2-5 New York City FC in second place
  • 2018: 11-2-4 shared between Atlanta United in second place and the Columbus Crew in fifth place
  • 2019: TBD but currently 7-4-5 D.C. United (with one home match left)

Orlando’s best home record to date (7-5-5 in 2015 and 2017) has only been as good as the worst Eastern Conference playoff team home record over the last five years (the 2016 Montreal Impact) so far, although both D.C. and New England could get in with as bad or a worse home record in 2019. United can finish no worse than 7-5-5 at home and New England could fall to 7-6-4. The best the Lions can do this season is 7-7-3 if they beat Chicago on Decision Day.

Numbers do not lie. They don’t know how. I could sit here and break down the away records of each team as well, but the data indicates that home record alone can get a team above the red line, while the away record just helps in terms of playoff seeding. With as much improvement as Orlando City has made since the disaster of last season, the Lions will still not finish with a better home record than previous seasons, and despite the drastic improvements, are still not above the red line.

In a league that is constantly touted as one of the toughest to win on the road, home is absolutely where the playoffs are. Think about this: Just last year, D.C. United only won 10 points on the road and still made the playoffs in the fourth spot. They had one — just one — road win and seven draws over the season and were the fourth-best team in the East on points accumulated. How did this happen? Well, it is easy if you win 13 and draw two of 17 home matches. We can collectively argue the merits of individual players, but this team needs to take a hard look at itself in the mirror and ask, “what pieces are needed to make Exploria Stadium a guaranteed points fortress?” I am simply blown away after doing just the little bit of research I did to find the above information.

Forget everything else you think you know, Orlando City faithful. Regardless of how the 2019 seasons culminates, the collective goal for everyone should be to ensure that the club has the absolute highest probability of winning every home game possible. Is going undefeated at home possible? Sure. However, is it probable? The answer is no, but that shouldn’t dissuade you from helping to make Exploria Stadium a place to be feared. The front office needs to do its part as well, making sure that the product put forth on the pitch is one that is relentless and hellbent on securing points at home.

If you have read or followed me long enough, you know I have a penchant for metal, and the track “Pure Hatred” from Chimaira perfectly sums up how I think everyone should think about anyone coming to our house next season. Don’t save the vitriol only for the “rivals.” Spread it as far and wide as possible and make sure every visiting team hears your “hate for everyone” who dares visit Exploria Stadium.