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Orlando City Must Emerge from the Dark Forest

A look at the potential positives for the Lions heading into the last nine matches of the regular season.

MLS: Orlando City SC at FC Cincinnati Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

“Fairy tales do not start nor do they end at the dark forest. That’s only something that shows up smack dab in the middle of the story, but it will all work out. It may not work out how you think it will or how you hope it does. But believe me, it will all work out, exactly as it’s supposed to. Our job is to have zero expectations and just let go.” - Ted Lasso. Season 2, Episode 5: “Rainbow.”

In the Dark Forest

Orlando City is traveling through the dark forest right now. Three straight losses, a host of injuries, and card suspensions have the Lions reeling heading into the last part of the season. Nani and Andrés Perea were unavailable for the match against the Philadelphia Union due to red cards earned against CF Montreal. Now, Antonio Carlos will be out due to a red card from the Philly match.

Alexandre Pato hasn’t seen the match day roster in forever, and there has been a merry-go-round of injuries throughout the lineup as our own Michael Citro wrote last week. Perhaps the biggest loss has been Sebas Mendez, who has been out alternatively on injury and international duty. He was the linchpin of Orlando City’s defense early in the season, and the recent defensive woes reflect his absence.

Heading into the match against New England, Orlando City will have Rodrigo Schlegel filling in at center back. That is not ideal against a Revolution side that had scored 48 goals entering last night’s match. I most sincerely hope I’m wrong, but I expect that the Lions will drop their fourth straight match Saturday night. But if they do, it isn’t the end of the world, nor the end of the season.

Back into the Light

That was a lot of doom and gloom, but like Ted implied, you have to make it through the dark forest to come back to the light. I promise that there are some very good reasons to maintain hope heading into the playoffs. Some are more certain than others, but they are there — I believe.

The Lions have earned a season’s worth of red cards in the last couple of matches, and they’ve had players serve suspensions for yellow card accumulation. I know we all have our tinfoil hats on, but odds are there won’t be more red cards. Players like Mauricio Pereyra now have clean slates on yellow cards. Heading into the match against Nashville SC, the Lions should have most of the first choice lineup available.

It’s anyone’s guess whether we see Pato in a match this season, or how soon Mendez is able to return, but Joey DeZart has played pretty well, and more minutes will only help him get better. Uri Rosell might not be everyone’s favorite, but he is a solid defensive midfielder. Ruan, João Moutinho, and Kyle Smith offer up depth and different looks for different opponents. It’s that type of depth that a playoff team needs.

Offensively, Daryl Dike is back and will almost certainly play himself into the form that has Orlando City asking $24 million for the striker. Pereyra has looked more dangerous the last few matches despite the losses, and Nani will do Nani things. I also hope that Chris Mueller will return to health, stop worrying about buying warm weather clothes for Scotland, and will find his game again.

Finally, Orlando City has an excellent coach in Oscar Pareja — a coach who holds both his players and himself to a very high standard. Just as importantly, he is able to keep a clear head. He’s been through these types of streaks, and he knows his players. Trust that Papi is able to get the ship righted, and the players all pulling the same direction. I’m not saying it will be easy, or even that any of it is a given. I am saying that the belief this team awakened last season shouldn’t be discarded as we make our collective way through the dark forest.