You know me by now, Mane Landers, and for the most part, I try to stay positive and find those silver linings. But hope for the playoffs is dwindling as the Lions fight tooth and nail for the last playoff spot. Results around MLS look to be begging Orlando City to win and claim that spot, but a draw with New England and a loss to Houston really put the club at risk for another season without making the playoffs.
What do we need to see this weekend (and next) from the guys to hold on to what little hope is left? We need the perfect storm of effort, passion, players, and luck to get the job done.
As we’ve seen a lot this season, James O’Connor is a fan of shaking up the starting XI. Sometimes rotation came when the schedule was ridiculously congested, sometimes with injuries, but rest assured, our predictions were likely always just a little bit off. We need to see the best possible situation for the full 90 this weekend. Just because Cincinnati sits at the bottom of the East, doesn’t mean much as they play Orlando City, which tends to be the curse breaker for so many clubs. The Lions need to show up full force, full health, and O’Connor must put his best XI forward. There is literally no reason to save players or watch minutes, because without a win (and lots of help), it’s officially over.
Mauricio Pereyra, Nani, and Dom Dwyer have been on fire. Dom has two goals in two games, something we’ve been aching for all season. Nani carried the team on his back to bring the Lions back into the match against New England to force a draw instead of the loss. Losing Pereyra (and defensive stalwart Cristian Higuita) in the Houston match saw a drastic decline in the quality of play. If Pereyra is fully match fit, as O’Connor said at training on Thursday, then Orlando needs him to play the full 90 — no 60th minute subs. In his short time, he’s made a huge impact in the attacking midfield, with two assists in his last two matches. If he, Dom, and Nani can continue to combine and create those opportunities, there just may be a chance.
If ever one was forced to summarize the season it would probably all come back to finishing chances. Week in and week out we sound like a broken record with City creating so many chances, only to see players send sitters sky high, send shots right into the opposing keepers’ hands, sending them wide, and, for some unholy reason, bouncing shots right off the woodwork. Completing shots isn’t the only area where Orlando needs to finish, as dropping points late in the game has been a common theme. Scoring on the opponent isn’t enough, they must keep scoring. When the Lions go up, they tend to sit back and try to protect the lead. News flash — It’s not working. Defending the lead needs to look like stacking goals on goals, being relentless in the attack and prepared for the counter. The biggest key to success as the Lions close out the season is scoring goals. Orlando City’s defense can only do so much if the other team has the ball repeatedly in the attacking third, but an offense that by all measures should be scoring, needs to do so.
Being optimistic is something for which I must work very hard, which is surprising to some. I’m negative by nature and petty too (whatever, I know who I am). I want to love these Lions through this season, and I will, but I’d love for them to love us back. To close, as the great characters from Letterkenny would say in their heavy Canadian accents, “Pitter, patter, let’s get at’er.”