The 2022 regular season is finally upon us and Orlando City gets to start the new campaign in the friendly confines of Exploria Stadium this Sunday afternoon. CF Montréal comes south of the border for an Eastern Conference bout. Six of the seven home openers in Orlando City’s MLS history have been draws. The exception was the 1-0 win over New York City FC in 2017. What do the Lions need to do to get their second opening day victory?
Show me the Goals
It’s not news that scoring goals makes a difference in the outcomes of soccer matches. In 2021, Orlando City was ranked fifth in the Eastern Conference in scoring with 50 goals total. That doesn’t seem too bad, but there were twelve draws where one more goal would have provided two additional points. In four out of the nine losses, one more goal would have earned the team a point rather than none. The Lions finished sixth in the Eastern Conference with 51 points. If the club had found two to three more goals in any of those 16 matches, they could have finished in second place with 55+ points, everything else being equal. That means a home playoff match. That means not dealing with Nashville. Just two to three more goals can make a huge difference, which brings me to my question. Where are the goals going to come from against Montreal?
The Lions are rebuilding up top with Ercan Kara and Facundo Torres. Even Alexandre Pato is practically new, given how much he was able to play in 2021. Setting aside Mauricio Pereyra, the other guys up there aren’t exactly DP-level players. I like Benji Michel, but he needs to reach another level this season. I like Silvester van der Water, but he needs to get more consistent if the Lions are to compete for the top spot this season.
How quickly these new guys and the few returnees gel will go a long way towards deciding where Orlando City finishes. The first opportunity is this Sunday against Montréal. As Captain, Pereyra will be key to breaking down the Montréal defense and putting his fellow attackers into position to score. It will also be interesting to see how soon Torres and Kara make their regular-season debuts and their marks on the team and this league.
Maintain a Stout Defense
Pedro Gallese is a top keeper in MLS, the pairing of Robin Jansson and Antonio Carlos is the best center back combination this club has ever had, and Ruan and João Moutinho are known quantities at fullback. The Orlando City defense is a strength of the club when healthy. That’s not to say there are no challenges this weekend.
Romell Quioto can cause trouble for opposing fullbacks, especially if either Ruan or Moutinho has moved into the attack as they often do in Oscar Pareja’s system. Their ability to get back and defend Quioto will go a long way to how well Orlando City does on defense.
In the off-season, Montréal signed Kei Kamara to a one-year deal with an option year for 2023. Kamara has been a pain in Orlando City’s side with every club he’s been with, going back to his time with the Columbus Crew, and he’s still a very good striker. Jansson, Carlos, and perhaps Rodrigo Schlegel will need to mark him to keep him from hurting the Lions this Sunday.
Fill the Stands
A big “to-do” was made after the preseason schedule dropped and all the matches were closed. Following my piece on Orlando City’s lack of connectivity with the fans, the club opened up one match to the general public, and two scrimmages to season ticket members and the media. It showed that the Wilf family and Jarrod Dillon, the new president of business operations, were listening and reacting as quickly as possible to feedback. The turnout at those events on the part of supporters was very good, which is what the club needs to see when we ask for such things.
Now, the opportunity is on us. The match is Sunday at 1 p.m. There is no reason why we can’t fill those seats. Bring your family, bring a friend, and show up yourself. Pareja has taken this club to the playoffs two years in a row, and deserves to be rewarded with a sell-out crowd for the home opener. Additionally, the concept of home field advantage is not unwarranted. The players will definitely know how many fans are there, and how loud and supportive they are. It makes a psychological difference that can mean the difference between getting a result or not.
Those are the things I will be looking for this weekend. Are you planning on going? Let me know in the comments below.