I hear the phrase “no moral victories” a lot, but I’ve never really agreed, especially in a league like MLS, where there are so many games in a season. Obviously, Orlando City fans would’ve preferred a win or at least a draw on Saturday, but the overall performance against the best team in the league was a massive positive in a tough patch of form.
The previous two matches against Montreal and Philadelphia felt like an enormous letdown, especially given the increasingly high stakes at this point in the season. No points, multiple red cards and just generally sloppy performances had some (me) questioning if Orlando is still capable of competing this season. After Saturday, my overreacting self has been calmed down a little bit.
The New England Revolution are a leviathan this year and were always going to be an incredibly difficult out, but in every stat but the scoresheet, Orlando proved it’s on a similar level as the Revs — even in their house. The Lions won the expected goal battle 1.6 to 1.3 and were effectively equal in all statistical categories. Were it not for a missed penalty, Orlando earns a point against the soon-to-be Supporters Shield champions. And the best part is that feels like a trend game, not just a fluke.
This strong performance was catalyzed by the return of Sebas Mendez in central midfield. In this rough stretch of games, the Lions have desperately needed more control and quality in midfield. His ability to anchor the defense just hasn’t been there with Joey DeZart or Andres Perea filling in. With Mendez shielding, the defense was far more reliable and stable than it’d been in weeks. As the Ecuadorian gets back into a rhythm, Orlando will maintain the defensive quality it flashed in New England on Saturday.
Another potential building block was Daryl Dike. The young striker has had an inconsistent second season in Orlando — not his fault given the lack of an off-season, plus international duty and injuries — but if his great goal on Saturday is the start of another hot streak, that solves a lot of Orlando’s goal-scoring issues. Also in that area of the field, Mauricio Pereyra has been delivering the last few weeks and had another great game in New England. Most of the key pieces are delivering right now, or at least working themselves back into form.
However, all of this is still in a loss. Orlando is still in danger of losing its home playoff game or even missing the playoffs. For as positive as I want to be about a strong performance, results are massive right now. The Lions still have to play Nashville twice and New England again in their last run of matches. In this most pivotal stretch, the scheduling gods have not favored Orlando City. Few teams fighting for a playoff spot have it as hard as Orlando City in the upcoming weeks and that’s why Saturday was important. It might not’ve been a result, but it proved Orlando is still a formidable team and has the ability to earn its spot in the postseason, and maybe even do something if it gets there.