MLS dropped the schedule for the 2021 season on Wednesday for every team in the league, obviously including Orlando City’s. It’s hard to tell what will happen over the course of a season given streaks, injuries, weather and everything else for each and every club. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t analyze the information that we have to get a sense for the challenges the schedule presents for Orlando City.
Thanks to the late start, there aren’t many breaks built into the season. It will be a grind all year, but there are still some matches that are potentially more important than others. We saw last season that the players have bought into the culture Óscar Pareja is trying to instill in the club. From all reports, the newer players coming in are also buying into what Pareja is building. That buy-in is what enabled Orlando City to do as well as it did last season, and it will continue to be the glue that gets the Lions through the long road ahead. Let’s look at five important matches for the 2021 season.
April 17 — Orlando City vs. Atlanta United
The very first match against Atlanta United has the potential to set the tone going forward. Josef Martinez is already flapping his gob about his being back for this match, and as such this match is the perfect opportunity for the Lions to shut down Martinez and all those northern neighbors that support him. It will be tough as Orlando City will be without starting left back João Moutinho and Daryl Dike, who is expected to still be on loan. On top of that, it will be the first match for newer players like Alexandre Pato and Silvester van der Water.
July 22 — Orlando City vs. Philadelphia Union
The defending Supporters’ Shield winners come to Exploria Stadium for an Eastern Conference clash. Both clubs will have gotten into the groove at this point, and it will be a good indication of how Orlando City is progressing in the 2021 season. Philly finished first in the Eastern Conference during the 2020 regular season, and is looking to improve its playoff performance. Orlando City did take both preseason matches against the Union, but that is way different than the regular season. This is a club that the Lions need to beat in 2021.
May 16 — Orlando City at D.C. United
Orlando City’s first Eastern Conference away match comes in the fifth contest of the season. The Lions’ last match against D.C. United was a 1-0 loss on June 26, 2019. While we all regret that time Wayne Rooney hurt us, this is not the same D.C. United squad. Getting points on the road in MLS is tough, and this is a genuine opportunity for Orlando City to do just that. Points garnered away from Exploria Stadium might make a big difference come the end of the season.
August 4 — Orlando City vs. Inter Miami
Smack dab in the middle of a brutal summer, the Lions will host the club from Ft. Lauderdale. Five days before this match, Orlando City will host another rival, Atlanta United. Three days after this match, the Lions will travel to Ohio to play FC Cincinnati. Despite it being a rivalry match, Orlando City may need to sit certain players given the schedule. How the Lions deal with player minutes and injuries may determine the outcome of this match.
September 4 — Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew
The Columbus Crew are the defending MLS champions, and all they did in the off-season was try to get better, adding Kevin Molino, Bradley Wright-Phillips, and others. There will be no greater test of where Orlando City is than when the club hosts the Crew. At this point in the season, both teams will have had plenty of time to confirm their identities, to have made adjustments, and for injuries to start cropping up. If Orlando City is in the top six and is able to beat the defending champs, the talk about the playoffs will be pretty loud.
Those are my thoughts after looking at the schedule. Let me know what other matches you think will play a big role in Orlando City’s 2021 campaign.