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Orlando City set for third round against NYCFC

Orlando City SC defender RJ Allen (27) dribbles the ball during the first half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando City is still in position to reach the playoffs.

Despite a nine match losing streak that ended less than two weeks ago and recent road losses marring solid performances under new coach James O’Connor, Orlando City (7-12-1, 22 points) is just six points out of fifth place. The Montreal Impact (9-12-1, 28 points) are in fifth place, but have played two more matches than the Lions.

A chance for Orlando City’s first playoff berth as an MLS club is still there, but the margin for error continues to shrink. The Lions’ home match on Thursday against NYCFC – a club that dominated two previous meetings with Orlando City this season – represents a chance for O’Connor’s squad to make up some ground.

“We never want to drop points at home,” rookie winger Chris Mueller said. “It’s never been in the plan that we want to go in and drop points at home. I don’t think we should drop anymore points at home, to be honest. I don’t think we ever should have dropped points at home.

“Moving forward, no, we shouldn’t be dropping any more points at home.”

Orlando City is 5-4-1 at home and recently snapped its franchise-record MLS losing streak with a 2-1 win over Toronto FC at Orlando City Stadium.

O’Connor is 1-2-0 in league play at the helm so far, but he’s been able to take away some positives from the two losses. He said there’s been some bad luck – Orlando City had some key calls go against them during the LAFC and Columbus losses – but he’s still looking in the mirror first after every match.

“The first thing I always do after every game is look at myself and think, ‘OK, what could I have done differently?’” O’Connor said. “’How could I have managed the game differently, us as a coaching staff?’ Then, obviously, we speak about it as the players.

“I think there’s lessons in everything. Trying to make sure you learn as much as you possibly can and that’s something that we’ve been trying to reinforce to the guys.”

Right back RJ Allen said the club’s focus in on NYCFC. He echoed something members of the team have said all week – Orlando City has put Saturday’s crushing loss to the Crew behind it.

The Pigeons (12-4-4) beat Orlando City 2-0 early in the season – before the Lions’ top goal scorer Dom Dwyer had played his first match of 2018 – and then won their second match against Orlando City 3-0.

Again, Dwyer – who should be healthy for Thursday’s match – didn’t play. Both matches were played at Yankee Stadium.

“You string a few wins together and you’re right back in that playoff picture,” Allen said.

“We’re not far off that sixth-place spot. The good thing is results have definitely gone in our favor. We’re not far off that sixth place spot, but obviously, I think we can even finish higher than sixth. There’s still a lot of games left, 14 games left and a lot of points to be had.”  

It’s not like the team has had much time to dwell on Saturday’s defeat, anyway.

Orlando City played both of its past two matches with less than a week’s rest. Thursday’s game will be played on four days’ rest and Sunday’s away match against the L.A. Galaxy represents another short turnaround for Orlando City.

“We can point a couple of things and say, ‘Yeah, look, maybe Lady Luck didn’t shine on us,’” O’Connor said. “But look, equally, it is what it is. You need to get your head down. You need to work even harder. There’s no point in sitting, crying over spilled milk. You need to work even harder, double down on your efforts and come out and push through.”

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