It took Orlando City six seasons after making the move to MLS to make the playoffs. Expectations have been raised for 2021, and I started to wonder what it would take for the Lions to win the MLS Cup. The most obvious answer is some luck. A championship means having calls go your way, balls bounce the right direction, and plenty of injury luck.
I decided to look back at the MLS Cup winners since Orlando City arrived in the league and see how they did on goals scored, goals allowed, and total points. The 2020 season could have messed with that due to a different number of games played, so ultimately we’ll look at points per match to even things out. Hopefully, we might be able to see what the Lions will need to do to get to the top of the mountain.
In Orlando City’s first season in MLS, the Portland Timbers won the MLS Cup. Through 34 matches, the Timbers scored 41 goals, and allowed 39 for a plus-two goal differential. Portland finished the regular season in third place in the Western Conference with a total of 53 points. That translates to 1.56 points per match.
By contrast, Orlando City scored 46 goals, and allowed 56 for a negative-10 goal differential. The Lions finished with 44 points, which is 1.29 points per match and was good enough for seventh place. That result had Orlando City looking in at the playoffs from just outside the bubble.
In 2016, the Seattle Sounders won it all. The Sounders played 34 matches, scored 44 goals, and allowed 43 for a plus-one goal differential. Seattle finished the regular season in fourth place in the Western Conference with a total of 48 points. That translates to 1.41 points per match. This was statistically the worst performance of an eventual MLS Cup winner, but there’s always an outlier.
Orlando City scored 55 goals, and allowed 60 for a negative-four goal differential. The Lions finished with 41 points, which is 1.21 points per match, and the Lions slipped to an eighth-place finish in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto FC played 34 matches, scored 74 goals, and allowed 37 for a ridiculous plus-37 goal differential. Toronto finished the regular season in first place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 69 points. That translates to 2.03 points per match. Toronto ran away with the regular season, and did everything needed in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, Orlando City’s slide continued. The Lions only scored 39 goals and allowed 58, for a negative-19 goal differential. Orlando finished with 39 points, which is 1.15 points per match, and fell to 10th in the Eastern Conference.
2018 turned out to be the worst year for many reasons. Over 34 matches, Atlanta scored 70 goals and allowed 44 for a plus-26 goal differential, finishing the regular season in second place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 69 points. That translates to 2.03 points per match.
Orlando City, on the other hand, put in the club’s worst season in MLS. The Lions scored 43 goals, but allowed a whopping (then-league record) 74 for a negative-31 goal differential. The Lions finished with a dismal 28 points which is a ridiculously low 0.82 points per match. Needless to say, Orlando City finished dead last in 11th place in the Eastern Conference.
After three years, the Seattle Sounders once again took hold of the MLS Cup. The Sounders played 34 matches, scored 52 goals, and allowed 49 for a plus-three goal differential. Seattle finished the regular season in second place in the Western Conference with a total of 56 points. That translates to 1.65 points per match.
Orlando City did slightly better than the previous season, scoring 44 goals, but the defense cut the goals allowed down to 52 for a negative-eight goal differential. The Lions finished with 37 points, which is 1.09 points per match. Orlando City finished 11th in the Eastern Conference again, but it was at least a little better.
Last season, the Columbus Crew won the Cup. Given it was a shortened season, the Crew played 23 matches, scored 36 goals, and allowed 21 for a plus-15 goal differential. Columbus finished the regular season in third place in the Eastern Conference with a total of 41 points. That translates to 1.78 points per match.
As I’m sure you know, the Lions completely turned things around in 2020. Orlando City scored 40 goals and only allowed 25 for a plus-15 goal differential. The Lions also finished with 41 points and 1.78 points per match, finishing just behind the Crew in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
So what can we take away from all of this? Every Cup winner had a positive goal differential, which is not surprising. Last year, Orlando City finished well enough at the end of the regular season to equal or better four of the last six MLS Cup winners in both goal differential and points per match.
That brings us back to the other thing a club needs to win it all...luck. Between the players that Orlando City has added, and another year under Óscar Pareja, it might be that all the Lions need to bring home silverware is for a few intangibles to break the club’s way.