Sunday’s match against Nashville SC will forever be scarred by a controversial VAR decision that wiped out the goal that would’ve sent Orlando City to the playoffs for the second season in a row. But it never should’ve gotten to that point.
Orlando City has missed chances, both in games and on the season as a whole, and it could end up costing the Lions a playoff spot. By in-game missed chances, I literally mean missed chances. Orlando City had plenty of high quality chances against Nashville — the most obvious being Junior Urso’s wide open chance at the top of the box late in the match that he couldn’t even get on frame. Orlando has lacked the killer touch in front of goal most of this season, especially from players not named Daryl Dike or Nani, and that lack of finishing prowess has been costly. The Lions have struggled with goal scoring at times, and more importantly, have struggled to extend leads and put games away.
Against Nashville, Orlando got the opening goal and was on the front foot most of the first half. But the halftime score stayed 1-0. The opportunity was there to extend the lead and put the game away, but Nashville stuck around and the game ended in a draw. A similar story cost Orlando against New England and Montreal. Orlando has struggled to put teams away and now finds itself in a Decision Day fight for a playoff spot.
The Lions were in the driver’s seat for a home playoff game almost this entire season. But they didn’t capitalize on easy points earlier in the season. Sloppy draws and losses to teams like Cincinnati and Chicago, some of the worst sides in the league, kept Orlando from reaching its postseason goals earlier in the season. If it took care of business in those match-ups in the summer, a home playoff game would already be all but secured.
It’s important to know that Orlando had to overcome a lot of adversity midseason, so those lost points weren’t just negligence. Key injuries to players like Sebas Mendez and Daryl Dike kept Orlando from maximizing itself in the summer. But from then to now, Orlando has struggled to put teams away and take care of business.
Orlando City is still in prime position to make the playoffs again. The Lions are four points above the playoff line and five points above Montreal, the team with a game in hand. Things would have to get really funky for the Lions to actually miss the postseason, but it’s possible, especially in MLS, where funky things happen every day (such as on Sunday, for example). Even a home playoff game is still in play if Orlando can win on Decision Day and New York City FC loses. But Orlando shouldn’t be in this position.
The Lions should be sitting pretty with Nashville and New England, comfortably atop the Eastern Conference, but the lack of final product has left things to the final day and to officiating decisions. If Orlando makes the playoffs, this is moot and anything is possible. But we’re still hanging on that word “if.”