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Orlando City seeks to keep playoff dreams alive during road match against Houston Dynamo

With its sights set on finishing the season with three wins, Orlando City takes on the first of a two-game road series in Houston this weekend.

Orlando City defender Carlos Ascues (26) and FC Dallas midfielder Santiago Mosquera (11) fight for the ball earlier this season. (Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports)

SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando City faces Houston on the road Saturday, kicking off the first of a three-game, must-win stretch as the Lions push to keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

Although Houston’s odds are next to none to make the playoffs — FiveThirtyEight.com places them at less than 1% — Orlando City coach James O’Connor expects that the Dynamo will bring an intense edge to Saturday’s match. The game will serve as the first of two consecutive road games that could decide the Lions’ chances of earning the first playoff berth in franchise history.

“Houston, I’m sure, will be desperate to win the game as well,” O’Connor said. “This year, away from home we’ve been really good. For us, going into the away games, the mentality going into every game has been pretty consistent.”

The best way for Orlando City to improve its playoff odds will be to sweep the final three games of the season. The nine points won’t guarantee a spot in the postseason, but they’re the Lions’ best bet of inching close enough to the line to capitalize on a loss by any of the teams directly above them in the standings.

That will require the Lions to do something new — build a winning streak. Although the team strung together a streak of back-to-back wins during the Open Cup, it has yet to win consecutive league games.

“That’s probably a big frustration of ours is that we haven’t really put a run where we’ve been able to go back-to-back-to-back,” O’Connor said. “For us, going into the final three games of the year, I think it becomes really important for us to be able to go and try to do that.”

Although the team has struggled to push itself over the playoff line, O’Connor said that the group feels energized moving into the weekend’s match. Some of that confidence comes from the team’s recent offensive outpouring, with the Lions scoring five goals during two games after previously getting shut out in back-to-back games.

Last week’s draw against New England saw all three of the team’s designated players connect, as Mauricio Pereyra assisted one of Nani’s two goals and Nani fed Dom Dwyer for his first goal in two months.

The team will look to continue that scoring streak against Houston, which has been looking to rebuild after the midseason firing of coach Wilmer Cabrera. The Dynamo have won only one game since then, but the team has been steady at home, ceding only three losses at BBVA Compass Stadium this season.

Orlando City players understand the importance of Saturday’s game. The team’s ability to execute in this high-stakes environment will prove whether the club can complete a run into the postseason.

“Right now, we believe that winning these next three games, we’ll qualify,” midfielder Carlos Ascues said. “The confidence of this group remains the same, even better I think. We just have to focus on the upcoming game. I think [if we] win these three games, we’ll be there.”

Scouting report

Orlando City vs. Houston Dynamo, 8:30

Where: BBVA Compass Stadium

Watch: WRBW-Channel 65, Youtube TV, ESPN+

The Buzz: Orlando City rallied twice to earn a 3-3 draw at home against New England last week. … Nani scored two equalizing goals in the 22nd and 54th minutes, while Dom Dwyer added a third in the 47th. … Houston suffered a 2-1 loss on the road against the Vancouver Whitecaps last week. … Nani leads Orlando City in scoring with 12 goals, while also pacing the Lions with 10 assists. … The Houston attack is led by Mauro Manotas, who has scored 13 goals this season, while Alberth Elis follows with seven goals and leads the team with eight assists.

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