Whether Orlando City earns a spot in the postseason, one of the most pressing issues to emerge this season comes from its pattern of ceding leads late in games.
Last week’s loss in Houston was just another iteration of this tendency — the Lions took a lead in the opening minutes of the game, only to surrender two goals in three minutes and stumble to a loss. The result added to a growing frustration for Lions coach James O’Connor.
“If you look at the amount of times that’s happened throughout the course of the year, we’ve looked at everything,” O’Connor said. “You ask yourself, ‘Why is this happening?’ The natural instinct is to think if we’re fit enough, but when you look statistically, we’re off the charts. So it’s not a fitness issue. It becomes more of a mentality.”
The most troubling pattern for the Lions has come in draws, with late opponent goals leading to the loss of 14 points. Orlando City has earned nine draws this season, but seven of those results began with the Lions in the lead. During six of those matches, the team held a lead past the 70th minute; in three of them, it coughed up the equalizing goal in stoppage time.
When the team studies this repetitive problem, forward Tesho Akindele said it’s become a discussion of mentality, not tactics.
“It’s just focus in those big moments of the game,” Akindele said. “There’s so many games where we play so well and we keep going back to that little bit of focus. I think it’s something that we really need to work on and make sure we remind each other in the moment.”
To O’Connor, a critical factor to address is the team’s tendency to sit back after scoring an initial goal. He feels that his team often switches onto the defensive once it scores, sitting back rather than striking when a team is already vulnerable. Typically, the reason that teams are able to come back against Orlando City late is that the team only takes a one-goal lead rather than creating a cushion to fend off any late-game heroics.
When he looks forward, O’Connor said his team needs to attack in the vulnerable minutes directly after scoring their first goal. He said being proactive will make the difference for the Lions.
“It’s something culturally that is part of the makeup of Orlando that we’re trying to chip away at and change,” O’Connor said. “The frustration for us all is that we’ve seen the opportunities that we’ve had and we haven’t quite gotten over the line. That’s the biggest frustration for all of us, because we desperately want it.”
New England draw keeps playoff hopes alive
On the road in Portland, it looked as if New England was going to hand Orlando City a glimmer of hope for the postseason. The Revolution trailed 2-0 in the 87th minute, but a goal from Gustavo Bou and a penalty kick in the seventh minute of stoppage time leveled the score in a stunning finish.
The result doesn’t mean Orlando City is completely out of the postseason race just yet, but it does add yet another hurdle of difficulty for the team. With a six-point deficit, Orlando City will still need to win out its last two games for the season and hope that New England loses its final two. Now, the Lions also rely on Montreal and Chicago to drop points in order to leap frog both teams into the No. 7 slot.
After the New England match, FiveThirtyEight.com now lists the Lions’ odds of making the playoffs at 3%.