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Top five Orlando City games to watch this season

The MLS calendar is full of games to watch and intriguing matchups between solid clubs. Picking out five matches in Orlando City’s schedule wasn’t easy, and the ones listed are ordered by date only. The season opener doesn’t count as a game to watch — if you’re an Orlando City fan, you’re watching the team’s Saturday opener against D.C. United.

Minnesota United FC, 7:30 p.m., Saturday March 10, at Orlando City Stadium

It’s the grand return of Adrian Heath!

It’s also the second game of the season. After all of the glamour and fun of the season opener has worn off, we’ll be officially into the 2018 MLS season. The Loons gave up 70 goals last season, had a goal differential of minus-23 and won 10 matches.

One of those matches was over Orlando City.

Plenty of coaches learn a lot about their teams from Game 1 to Game 2. This game will be about how the team A) responds to the success of a successful opener or B) bounces back after dropping points at home early.

Philadelphia Union, 8 p.m., Friday April 13, at Talen Energy Stadium Philadelphia

The last time the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City were on the same pitch, the Lions were in shambles. It was the season finale of a truly disappointing OCSC campaign that started with such promise.

And Philadelphia beat the stuffing out of Orlando City, polishing off the Lions’ worst MLS season with a 6-1 victory.

That was at the end of 2017. The Lions — by all accounts — weren’t giving their best effort at the end of the season and things were rough (understatement). This year is about high expectations brought on by flashy signings. Defeating Philadelphia — a team that made its own flashy signing this offseason — would go a long way toward purging some of demons of last season.

Of course, this match loses some luster if the Lions are roaring out of the gate — the demons of last season will have been purged and forgotten if that’s the case.

Atlanta United FC, 6 p.m, Sunday May 13, 6 p.m.

It’s Atlanta. They’ve only been around for a year and there’s already a pretty solid rivalry brewing between supporters of the two clubs.

At this point, some solid storylines should be brewing. How are the new-look Lions faring? Has Ezequiel Barco made his debut yet? Are supporters of both clubs back out in full force?

About 70,000 fans came out to see Orlando City’s 3-3 draw with Atlanta in September of last season at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Any game between the Lions and Atlanta United promises an electric atmosphere.

Bonus: Atlanta returns to Orlando on Aug. 25. It’ll be Orlando City’s final match of the summer months, which means it’ll likely be a chance to see if Orlando City can avoid what has become an annual summer swoon.

LAFC, 4:30 p.m, Saturday July 7, at Banc of California Stadium

I mean, who doesn’t want to see the inside of Banc of California Stadium? LAFC joins the league with a star-studded ownership group, Carlos Vela and almost as much hype as the LeBron James-led Miami Heat of 2010.

OK, no team will ever start a season with that much hype again.

Still, the league’s newest expansion side is an interesting group. There doesn’t look like there’s much in the way of depth, but there’s plenty of star power on the roster. It should make for a fun midsummer match, as well as a fun change of pace between the quarterfinals and the semifinals of the World Cup.

Toronto FC, 8 p.m., Saturday July 14, at BMO Field

At this point in the season, we’ll know what Orlando City is all about. We’ll know if the drastic roster makeover was worth it. Toronto is the 19th match on the schedule, and if Orlando City SC hasn’t figured it out by then, 2018 won’t be the season fans are hoping for.

So, of course, TFC is the litmus test. Toronto enters the season as the defending MLS Cup champion and until further notice, TFC is the team to beat in the Eastern Conference

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