Orlando City has gotten its 2022 MLS campaign off to a good start. The team currently sits in second in the Eastern Conference with 14 points (4-2-2). However, the way in which the team has acquired those points has been a surprise.
While MLS is not the world’s best league, it’s one of the toughest for visiting teams. The teams have obstacles when traveling that most countries avoid. For example, teams are allowed a limited number of charter flights and sometimes have to cross multiple time zones. It’s something that is known by North Americans but often a surprise for players from other continents.
In fact, since Orlando City joined MLS in 2015, only 16 teams have finished with a winning record away from home. Additionally, nine have finished with a .500 record in road games. No teams in the league had winning records in 2015 or 2016 and only one team had a winning record in 2017, so most of these strong away records have occurred recently.
Also of importance is that half of those 16 teams to finish with a winning record away from home ended the season atop the conference. Since 2017, the only two teams to finish first in their conference with a losing road record were the 2020 Philadelphia Union (3-4-4) and the 2017 Portland Timbers (4-9-4).
In Orlando City’s seven full seasons in MLS, the team has never had more wins than losses on the road and has only had the same number (3-3-4) in 2020. Other than that shortened 2020 season, the closest the Lions have come to a winning road record was 2021, when they finished 5-7-5.
That brings us back to the 2022 Orlando City squad. The Lions have had a balanced schedule so far this season, with four games at home and four away. While they’ve been .500 at home (2-2-0), they remain undefeated on the road (2-0-2).
To show their strong performances away, the team was two calls from a perfect 4-0-0 record away from Exploria Stadium. The draw against the Chicago Fire on March 5 was nearly a 1-0 win when Junior Urso scored the go-ahead goal in the 75th minute. But the referee went to the video monitor for a lengthy review and determined that Ercan Kara used his hand to control the ball in the buildup. The Professional Referees Organization (PRO) later said that the play was not conclusive and the initial call of a goal should’ve stood, which would’ve given the Lions a 1-0 win.
Missed this last week, but in doing homework for today's game I caught that PRO had this to say about the Júnior Urso non-goal from the Chicago game a couple weeks ago. The review was clocked at 3:40, the longest of the 15 video reviews in MLS so far this year. #OrlandoCity pic.twitter.com/PxhM81vVXR— Evan Weston (@EvanLWeston) March 19, 2022
The second draw came on March 27 in Portland. Orlando City went up 1-0 in the 52nd minute with a Junior Urso goal. Additionally, the Lions went up a man when Josecarlos Van Rankin was issued his second yellow card in the 74th minute. However, an ill-advised lunge in the box by Andres Perea gave the Timbers a penalty in the 80th minute, which Cristhian Paredes converted to pull out the 1-1 draw.
As previously mentioned, playing away games in MLS is tough. It’s rare that a team can go on the road and dominate statistically, even if it wins. While Orlando City has come away with good road results this season, it hasn’t been in dominant fashion. The team has had less possession and fewer shots in each game and only had more shots on target in the team’s 1-1 draw in Portland (4-3).
But these results show that this year’s team knows how to go on the road and come away with a result. Heading into this season, it was a common assumption that the defense would carry the team, especially with all of the changes in the attack. That has proven to be the case with the defensive unit recording five clean sheets in eight games.
The way to win on the road in MLS is to withstand the unavoidable attack of the hosts and hit them on the counter. While Orlando City has been successful doing this away from home, it’s hit them twice at home. In the Lions’ two losses at Exploria Stadium this season, they’ve dominated possession. Additionally, they’ve had more shots and shots on target than the opposition.
In previous seasons, Orlando City didn’t manage to claim points on the road often. The opponents’ possession and shots turned into goals. But this team, under experienced Head Coach Oscar Pareja, appears to know how to claim points away from home.
History shows that most MLS teams are much better at home than on the road. Each year, far more teams have winning records than losing records in their home stadium. But the best teams understand how to claim points away from home, which pays off later in the season. If the Lions can keep up their road form, it could be their best MLS season to date.