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Three things we learned from Orlando City’s 1-1 draw to FC Cincinnati

Despite Benji Michel’s late equalizer, the draw capped off a seven-game winless streak to bring the Lions’ playoff hopes to an end.

FC Cincinnati defender Greg Garza (4) battles against Orlando City SC forward Tesho Akindele (13) in the first half at Nippert Stadium Sunday. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City muscled out a draw during its final road game of the season on Sunday, with a stoppage time goal from Benji Michel leveling the score 1-1 against FC Cincinnati. Here are three things we learned from the match:

Winless streak tanks Lions’ postseason hopes

Sunday marked the end of Orlando City’s playoff push this season, as the New England Revolution’s 2-0 victory over New York City FC officially eliminated the Lions. The team’s chances for the postseason had been out of its hands for a week, but the draw with last-place Cincinnati highlighted the Lions’ struggles to win during the past month.

As it entered the home stretch of the regular season, Orlando City fell into a seven-game winless streak. A victory over Sporting KC pushed the team up to the No. 8 slot in the conference, just inches away from pushing over the playoff line. But after that win, the Lions couldn’t earn three points during any of the final eight matches of the season.

Four of these games were draws, which could feel like positive results because the Lions earned a point from each one. The defeats stung sharply, but the true losses were the games during which Orlando City surrendered a lead and let a win turn into a draw.

As the team looks ahead to next season, it will need to solve this familiar end-of-season slump trend in order to push the club firmly over the line for its first playoff berth.

Moutinho riddled with injuries

Defender João Moutinho returned to the starting lineup after he was sidelined eight games due to hamstring and quad injuries, but he lasted only 14 minutes before suffering a calf injury. Coach James O’Connor was forced to burn a substitution to bring on Kyle Smith in his stead.

The injury reflected the main detractor for Moutinho throughout the season. The defender brings speed and accurate crossing, allowing his position at left back to boost the team’s attacking movement without sacrificing on the defensive end.

But the defender has only played in four games since June 1. His health hasn’t been dependable for a variety of reasons — a hamstring injury sidelined him for six games, then he returned for three games before suffering the quad injury.

“It’s very unpredictable,” O’Connor said. “It’s not like he’s had one specific area that we can look at. It’s hard to get a full understanding of it.”

Moutinho suffered from a similar pattern last season with LAFC, playing in only two of the team’s final 14 games due to injury. As he looks ahead to his third season in MLS, his health looms as a major question mark.

Michel continues to show offensive growth

For Orlando City, the brightest highlight of the night came in stoppage time courtesy of a goal from Michel. The rookie scrambled in the box to track down a ricocheted header, immediately slicing the ball into the net.

The score marked the rookie’s fourth goal of the season, making him the No. 5 scorer on the Lions’ roster.

“When you look at Benji, look at his development throughout the course of the season, that’s a major plus for us,” O’Connor said. “His ability to get some goals and his ability to drive at people, he’s someone we’re very pleased with his development.”

Michel entered the game in the 58th minute for Tesho Akindele, offering a boost of energy up the right flank for Orlando City. Although the striker has fit into the Orlando City starting lineup, one of his most influential roles is as a substitute, coming on in the second half to inject speed into the team when the starters’ legs begin to drag.

As a young homegrown player, Michel represents the future for Orlando City. His ability to transition into a starting role and shoulder a heavier load of the team’s attack will be a key factor in the Lions’ success moving into next season. 

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