Orlando City got off to a hot start to the season, but have since cooled off in recent weeks. Is it time to panic in the Sunshine State?
Things were going so well for Orlando City just a month ago. The team was on a record-breaking six-game winning streak and were flying up the Eastern Conference table, the defense was keeping the sheets clean while the offense was firing on all cylinders, and fans started to believe that this season could be different to the disappointments of years past.
Nowadays, though, those hopes have morphed into fears, as the tide has since turned in the Sunshine State.
It all started with a home match against bitter rivals Atlanta United. This game was crucial for Orlando, as they thought it would be their chance to prove themselves as legitimate contenders. That would not prove to be the case. They conceded twice in the opening 30 minutes, digging themselves into an insurmountable hole. Justin Meram pulled one goal back at the hour mark and Orlando pushed desperately for an equalizer, but they had to take the loss on the chin.
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Orlando had the chance to bounce back the next week away to Toronto FC. Hopes were high as the reigning MLS champions were forced to play a much weaker side with both Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco unavailable for selection. If there was ever a chance for Orlando to pick up a win in Toronto, this was it. However, the Lions bottled the opportunity handed to them and lost their second game on the bounce. It was a close game throughout, but the Canadian side grabbed the winner late, capitalizing on some horrid defending from their Floridian counterparts.
Fans were still optimistic, though, as they looked at the following contest against the Chicago Fire as an easy victory. Chicago was desperately out of form and hampered by an extensive injury list. Orlando were in the comforts of their own stadium. Again, the perfect chance to right the recent wrongs.
The away side grabbed the lead against the run of play from a beautiful free kick, but Orlando were able to equalizer soon after and seemed to have all the momentum needed to go on and grab the three points. That did not happen. Chicago would somehow score the next goal and hold on for the victory. The Fire made the game ugly, parking the bus at the back and allowing the home side no space in behind. They then capitalized on the break, with Alan Gordon scoring an absolute screamer from distance. Orlando had no answer. They were unable to adapt their gameplan and lost yet again.
Most recently, the Lions traveled up to Yankee Stadium to face NYCFC. A potential playoff match-up, some were expecting a close affair. But it would not get anything close to that. New York was simply the better team and were ruthless in front of goal. Orlando did have a chance to make it a contest when they were awarded a penalty to tie the game, but Sacha Kljestan couldn’t convert from the spot. NYCFC scored soon after and added a third for good measure to secure the win.
A key reason for this drop in form has been the injury to star striker Dom Dwyer, who has missed three games. He was on fire before getting hurt, having scored six goals in as many games. Without him, the offense has looked lost, a shell of the attacking juggernaut that ran rampant earlier in the year. Dwyer is the focal point of the attack, with everyone else playing off or around him. His runs in behind open up space for his teammates, which give them more opportunities on goal, and his goal return has been exceptional. Orlando has tried a number of players up top in his absence, but none have been able to get the job done. Fans will be hoping that Dwyer can return as soon as possible and help bring this stagnant offense back to life.
Orlando now sit in sixth position and find themselves in the thick of a tight playoff race. They are three points behind the Revolution and are now only a single point above a streaking Philadelphia side. The Lions do have a game in hand, though they will have to make the most of it if they want to quell some of the pressure that’s being put on them.
Their upcoming schedule isn’t as difficult as their recent run of games, but could still prove to be quite tricky. Orlando got a favorable draw in the U.S. Open Cup and will face lower-league side, Miami United, on Wednesday. The weekend sees the Lions travel to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps, a tough team to break down who are riding a five-match unbeaten run. Orlando then stay in Canada, as their next game is away to the Montreal Impact. Montreal has had a bad season so far but are still capable of pulling off an impressive result against anyone, especially at home.
This final stretch before the World Cup break could be a defining one in Orlando’s season. If they can bounce back and pick up some points, they’ll find themselves back in the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference standings. However, if this downward slide continues, the Lions could find themselves out of the playoff picture altogether.
It may not be time to panic just yet, but Orlando City fans should know where they’ve stored their oxygen mask, just in case.