It’s May. Orlando City is swooning. Again. Big surprise.
Saturday I published an observation based on the last five seasons of MLS that there’s only one way to enter this league and succeed as an expansion side, and that is to enter with a team built for MLS from the moment the club is conceived, not build a club for a lower tier on the pyramid and then try to catapult any success from those years into success at the MLS level.
I consider myself both a fan and a realist. The fan in me is frustrated that the team is not winning more points and at least getting draws more consistently. But the realist in me is seeing an improvement in the cohesion of the team (most of the time) from last season. Don’t get me wrong—we’re still a bad team because we make too many mistakes on defense and we miss way too many opportunities on offense. But at least on defense we are making fewer mistakes than we did last season. We gave up three or more goals in 11 matches in 2018. So far in 2019 we have only surrendered three goals twice, and we still won one of those matches. At this rate, we will only give up three or more goals in six matches this year, nearly a 50% improvement.
I largely credit the hiring of Luis Muzzi with the improvement, and I hope that when the secondary transfer window opens the team will be able to ship out a few underperforming players and bring in some promising younger talent to support the energy and mentality that Coach James O’Connor is trying to build within the group. The residential-style campus of IMG during preseason this year was a good setting to help get the players focused on bonding as teammates, and that bonding seems to be evident on the pitch. There’s less visible sniping and factions within the team. But they still have too many poor players and still make too many mistakes. Those must be ruthlessly purged from the team and replaced with better performers. Anything less is unacceptable.
FC Cincinnati comes into the match off their first win in six matches, after having parted ways with their original head coach. They beat a road-weary Montreal Impact side 2-1. Sunday they come into Orlando City Stadium to face an Orlando City side that may be fresher than the calendar indicates after they started 11 different players in the midweek match against Seattle on Wednesday night than they did last Sunday in Atlanta.
FC Cincinnati has only one player with more than a single goal to his credit (Allan Cruz) and the entire roster has only scored 10 goals in 12 matches. They have also given up 18 goals for a -8 goal differential on the season that has them sitting in last place on the Eastern Conference Table with only 11 points.
Orlando City comes into the match hoping to correct a bit of a skid of their own. After scoring in all nine of their first matches, Orlando City has been scoreless in two of their last three and has dropped three matches in a row, taking zero of a possible nine points in that stretch. They sit in 10th place on the Eastern Conference table, a mere point ahead of FC Cincinnati and a full four points out of seventh place in the Eastern Conference. The scoreless drought has contributed to a -5 goal differential. In 12 matches on the season, the Lions have managed 14 goals and have surrendered 19. And Orlando City SC has four players with multiple goals, including Nani (5), Dom Dwyer and Chris Mueller (3 each), and Tesho Akindele (2).
FC Cincinnati has some very respectable players. It’s amazing that Darren Mattocks hasn’t scored more than he has so far. In previous years he has always been a threat that Orlando City defenses need to watch, and he figured in one of the most exciting plays from 2018 for Lions fans when Mohamed El-Munir chased him down from behind and poked the ball away with a gorgeous slide tackle that prevented a wide-open shot on goal. And Cincy’s Kendall Waston is a powerful defender who can steal the ball from nearly anyone on his best day.
The key to winning for Orlando City will be limiting the mistakes in the back and capitalizing on the chances in the attack. Defenders need to play organized, tight, and communicate continually with each other to cover runs and any organized attacks that Cincy tries to throw forward. At the same time, Orlando City cannot squander opportunities to score. Far too many times some very high-priced and big name players have failed so poorly that if I were James O’Connor I would keep them out of the Starting XI until they prove to me they can score from the bench. Their form is simply not good enough to deserve an MLS roster spot right now, and this front office needs to learn to be a little more callous and a little less nostalgic about what a player may have done years ago on another tier of the soccer pyramid with this club.
I am confident that Orlando City can win tomorrow’s game, but I am not confident that they will win it. Still, I’m going to be optimistic that the rest given to the usual starters on Wednesday will be rewarded with a sharper performance tomorrow afternoon. Thus, I predict a 2 - 0 clean sheet victory for the Lions. What about you? Do you think the Lions will end their losing streak tomorrow, or do you believe traditional may Meltdown will continue? Let me know in the comments below!