We’re almost halfway through February and that means the start of the Major League Soccer season is right around the corner. With that in mind I took a look at Orlando City’s schedule and made a list of the five games I’m most excited for in 2022. Here they are in all their glory.
5. Preseason Match vs. Colorado Rapids on Feb. 11
Normally it might be a little odd to be this excited for a preseason match, but tonight’s inclusion on my list is more about the circumstances surrounding the game rather than the game itself. Originally, none of Orlando City’s preseason matches were open for the public to attend. However, after listening to a vocal portion of the fanbase who wanted to be able to attend some preseason action, the club made the decision to open tonight’s match to the public. The team also opened the preseason matches against FC Dallas and Miami FC to season ticket members and those in supporters groups, which was a nice way to reward those individuals for their memberships. Tonight’s game is particularly special though. It’s a sign that new ownership is listening to the fans and wants to make some changes based on what it hears. Plus, the match is being used as an opportunity to give back to the community. Everyone wins here, and that’s why it starts off my list.
4. Home Opener vs. CF Montreal on Feb. 27
Next up is the first game of the 2022 MLS season, which also happens to be the home opener for the Lions. The men in purple will take on CF Montreal on Sunday, Feb. 27 in what should be a perfectly pleasant 1 p.m. kickoff. It’ll be our first look at OCSC in competitive action and the league chose a game that will likely have a little added spice to it for both sides. Not only did Orlando and Montreal play each other three times in the last 11 matches of the 2021 season — with each team winning once and splitting the spoils in the other game — but the Lions’ win came when it mattered most. The good guys ran out of Canada with a 2-0 victory on Decision Day and qualified for the playoffs at Montreal’s expense. That match will surely be in the forefront of players’ minds at the end of February and it should give an already exciting day an extra edge.
3. First Match Against Charlotte FC on April 30
The match against Charlotte FC will be our first chance to get a look at Major League Soccer’s newest team up close. With Charlotte slotting into the Eastern Conference, this will be the first of two regular-season games against the new kids on the block. It’s always interesting to get a look at new teams, and Charlotte’s roster is an interesting one with a mix of familiar names like Yordy Reyna, Anton Walkes, and Joseph Mora and exciting young unknowns like Vinicius Mello. Whether Charlotte has an immediate upward trajectory like Atlanta United, bottoms out like FC Cincinnati, or does something in between remains to be seen, and this will be our first in-person eye test to try and predict which way it goes.
2. Orlando Hosts Inter Miami on July 9
Now we start really getting into it. Orlando has settled into a nice little rivalry with Inter Miami. Obviously the close geographic proximity doesn’t hurt, and these two teams have also played each other pretty closely in the two years since Miami entered the league. Orlando won the lone game in Miami last year in a spirited comeback, while the two games at Exploria Stadium both ended in draws. The 2020 season saw the teams split the four games they played evenly at two wins apiece. That parity has fueled the flames between the two sides, and having former Lion Brek Shea shush The Wall after scoring an equalizer back in 2020 added a little bit of spice in the rivalry’s first year. The scheduling for the match is perfect too — 8 p.m. under the lights on a Saturday night is exactly the right setting for this one, and that locks it in as a game I have circled on the calendar.
1. Midweek Clash against Atlanta United on Sept. 14
The top match on my little list has (almost) everything. Rivalry game? Check. Late season match-up with possible playoff implications? Check. My only gripe with it is that it’s a midweek kickoff set for 6 p.m. That sucks a lot, but obviously this match-up still has enough going for it to make it a big one. Orlando and Atlanta split their three matches last year right down the middle, with the Lions recording a win, loss, and a draw against the Five Stripes in 2021. Both teams figure to have playoff aspirations once again in 2022 and with this game coming only three matches before Decision Day, it could have serious ramifications on the playoff hopes of one or both clubs. I wish it was a weekend game or at least had a later kickoff time, but the atmosphere and stakes should still be excellent for this one and that’s why it takes the top spot.
Are there any games that you have circled on your calendars for this year? Be sure to have your say down in the comments.