Orlando City has played its final regular season game this MLS campaign and it unfortunately ended in a 2-3 loss at home to Nashville SC. Despite the poor finish in the final game, the Lions earned a home game in the playoffs. Oscar Pareja’s men will face New York City FC in the first round.
While the match is impossible to predict the outcome of, one thing is for certain — the pressure is on. Orlando City has managed its first MLS playoff qualification in franchise history and it will be fascinating to see how the Lions cope with the tension. Though the playoffs are new territory for the club, City may actually be in a good position to advance deep into the postseason. Pareja and the Lions defied the odds in the MLS Is Back Tournament by making it all the way to the final. The team withstood the heat of being an underdog even though the finale against the Portland Timbers did end in defeat.
Said tolerance also being present in the playoff push could see deep progression from the tight-knit unit. The team showed that it can deal with stress in the past, Orlando-based competition. The side notably knocked out its former manager, Adrian Heath, in a comprehensive, 3-1 victory over Minnesota United and also surprisingly eliminated LAFC by beating the Southern California side in a penalty shootout. The latter occurred despite Bob Bradley’s side being the favorite to win it all. The high pressure intensity that City finds itself facing isn’t totally unfamiliar at all.
If that unconventional contest did not transpire, then it may be fair to say that the Lions could have been quite anxious going into their first ever MLS postseason. However, with such a solid trek to the final, coupled with the sturdy regular season, spirits should be higher than ever and confidence could be nearing or maybe even past an all-time high.
On paper, Pareja’s tactical and hardworking machine should be effective enough to ease past an abundance of other MLS sides that qualified for the playoffs. Notwithstanding, anything can happen in one fixture. Oftentimes, form goes out the window and it’s all about which side handles the pressure better.
If Orlando City can maintain composure, I am confident that the Lions could genuinely be in with a chance to make it to the latter stages of the postseason. On both the attacking and defensive fronts, Orlando is a massive threat and the work ethic promoted by the manager dovetails with the overall talent in the side beautifully.
As previously mentioned, the match-up with NYCFC is impossible to predict the outcome of, but I believe that many sides will be reluctant to face the Lions, possibly even including the Blues of New York.
In a nutshell, if the composure and ability to cope with pressure in the MLS Is Back Tournament is any viable gauge to base an assumption off of, it would be fair to predict that the side is more than capable of holding its nerve, even when it is in a proverbial pressure cooker of sorts. Equanimity is key, but only time will tell if that state of mind is present or not come the match-up against NYCFC and hopefully beyond.