SANFORD, Fla. — The stage is set for one of the most important six-point swings of the season for Orlando City as the Lions host the New England Revolution on Saturday.
Sitting in the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference, New England currently holds the last ticket into the postseason. The two teams are separated by four points, meaning a win would pull Orlando City one point away from a playoff position. A loss, however, would swing the team in the opposite position — not necessarily knocking Orlando City out of playoff contention, but forcing the Lions to hope they swept the remainder of their matches while other key teams suffered losses.
James O’Connor said his team is well aware of the stakes surrounding the game and he’s working to make sure the Lions put too much pressure on themselves.
“This particular game, we’re desperate to win because we understand the importance and the ramifications of the game,” O’Connor said. “I think it’s managing the process. If you worry too much about the outcome, it affects it.”
The last time the two teams faced off, Orlando City fell behind quickly, ceding a goal in the third minute on the way to a 4-1 loss. The Lions have struggled with giving up early goals during recent games, ceding one in the 12th minute of last week’s draw with LAFC and one in the third minute of Orlando City’s 3-0 loss in San Jose.
The Lions’ defense will look to shake off this opening whistle pattern against New England.
“The most important thing is that everyone needs to be tuned in and focused from the first minute,” Orlando City defender Kyle Smith said. “The first 15 minutes of the half, the last fifteen minutes of the half are the most important. And most times that’s when teams score their goals. We need to make sure everyone is locked in.”
Similar to Orlando City, New England is a team with a hungry edge after climbing out of the bottom rung of the Eastern Conference table and into playoff contention. The team has steadily built throughout the latter half of the season, clawing from the No. 12 spot following a coaching change and the hire of Bruce Arena.
Despite its steady climb, however, New England has won only once since the last time to two teams faced off, notching three draws and two losses in that time. Last weekend’s loss to New York City FC leaves the Revolution vulnerable in the standings, giving Orlando City a golden opportunity to clinch an important set of points Saturday.
“These games are must-wins,” forward Chris Mueller said. “You want to win every game, but this game is a little bit different. That’s in the front of our minds and we want to make sure we don’t look too far ahead of the game and work ourselves up. We just need to do what we can do and the results will come.”
Orlando City vs. New England Revolution, 7:30
Where: Exploria Stadium
Watch: WRBW-Channel 65, Youtube TV, ESPN+
The Buzz: Orlando City fought to a 2-2 draw against LAFC last week. … Nani scored the opening goal for the Lions in the 13th minute and Benji Michel added a second in the 20th minute. … New England suffered a 2-1 loss on the road against New York City FC last week. … Nani leads Orlando City in scoring with 10 goals, while Tesho Akindele follows close behind with nine. Nani also paces the Lions with nine assists. … The New England attack is led by Carles Gil, who has notched nine goals and 12 assists this season.