OCSC: MLS Midseason Evaluation and Projection

Orlando City's MLS side has had a bit of a Jekyll-and-Hyde start to the season in 2017. After racing to the top of the table in March and April on the strength of an MLS-record streak for wins to open a new home stadium, Orlando City fell back from the top spot with a distressing May that saw them win only one match the entire month. With the break for International Play and the US Open Cup, it's a good time to look at the first fifteen matches of the season and see what we can project for the rest of the year.

Orlando City MLS Season Review

The first 15 matches of the Orlando City MLS season can be neatly divided into two groups by date, since the team's performance was vastly different after the fast start in March/April and the grind of back-to-back three-match weeks through May.

March and April

In the first two months of the season, Orlando City started 6 - 1 with the only blemish being a road loss at Columbus in the third match of the season. The start of the year was also a bit unusual due to a cancellation of a match in Boston due to snow. Taking 18 of a possible 21 points put Orlando City at the top of the Eastern Conference table, and the defense played incredibly well, giving fans a hope that the days of the leaky sieve defense that had caused us to tear our hair out in the last two seasons may be behind us. 

Game Opponent GF GA Result/Points
1NYCFC10Win / 3
2Philadelphia21Win / 3
3Columbus02Loss / 0
4NY Red Bulls10Win / 3
5LA Galaxy21Win / 3
6NYCFC21Win / 3
7Colorado20Win / 3

GF = Goals for OCSC; GA = Goals against OCSC; links go to Match Center Stats on MLS web site

Last year's player of the year for the club was Joe Bendik, because he was the only player that was consistently steady and active in every match all season long. This year it was apparent that moves made by Jason Kreis in the offseason had greatly improved the defense. Speedier and more agile defenders like Jonathan Spector, Leo Periera, and PC proved able to mark attacking players more closely and prevent open opportunities by attacking opponents on goal. Our defense plays more instinctively and with quicker reactions this season, and it's a thing of beauty to watch them do their work when they are all humming along at full song.

May Meltdown

The month of May and the first game of June has been a completely different story. The MLS schedulers didn't do us any favors in the month, filling every match week with 3 matches so that the team was always playing 3 games in the space of 8 or 9 days. The torrid pace of games took a toll on the club, and it quickly became clear that this schedule was disruptive and overtaxed the stamina and depth of the team. In the eight matches that have been played since May 1, Orlando City has only managed one outright win, going 1 - 4 - 3. This period has seen the team's two worst losses on the season, and one hopes they won't be repeated. The first was an absolute destruction on the road in Houston with an 0 - 4 loss on May 6, and the other was a horrible 0 - 3 loss at home to NYCFC on May 21.

Game Opponent GF GA Result/Points
8Toronto12Loss / 0
9Houston04Loss / 0
10Sporting KC22Draw / 1
11San Jose11Draw / 1
12NYCFC03Loss / 0
13Minnesota01Loss / 0
14DC United20Win / 3
15Chicago00Draw / 1

GF = Goals for OCSC; GA = Goals against OCSC; links go to Match Center Stats on MLS web site

The only two fortunate things about the disappointing stretch are that the schedule improves and the club is still in the playoff hunt with the early season strong start. Orlando City is pretty much done with the 3-match weeks and has no more that are clumped together like the month of May. Also, after the most recent match on June 4, Orlando City is sitting 4th in the table on 24 points, tied with NYCFC and only four points behind second place Chicago Fire. This stretch of the season ended on a strong note with a win and a draw, but it was the kind of draw that felt like a win. In the June 4 match against Chicago, Orlando City suffered the "Wrath of Ted" as referee Ted Unkel handed out two unjustified red cards to Rafael Ramos and Antonio Nocerino. That left a 9-man Orlando City side to defend against a full-strength Chicago side, but they still prevented the visitors from putting any goals into the net. That has to give the team renewed confidence that the defense can play well against anyone, and even on short rest. This should be a big boost as they head into the heart of the summer and crest the halfway point in the season.

Current Standings and Projection

Orlando City has endured the worst part of the schedule in terms of multi-match weeks, so it seems unlikely that they will suffer a stretch of matches with performance as poor as the month of May. I'm not sure we can expect to see them replicate the performance of March and April again this year, but I am encouraged by the fact that they are still in the thick of the playoff race after this difficult stretch.

I think Toronto has a strong chance to win the East and the Supporters Shield this season, and it may well take a collapse by that team for the race to the top spot of the table to be terribly competitive. But I think Orlando City has a chance to finish in the top bracket of the Eastern Conference playoffs and host at least the first round playoff match at the end of the season. But with more than half the season to go, anything can still happen. The fact that Orlando City has been able to win matches without Kaka on the pitch and the improved defense give me confidence that the team has what it takes to be a contender this year.

What are your thoughts on the season? Does the team look like one that could contend for a playoff spot, or do you still want to see more matches before you make a prediction? Let me know in the comments below!