As the MLS season winds down, the fortunes of Orlando City stand upon a knife’s edge. To quote Galadriel from the Fellowship of the Ring movie:
“Your Quest stands upon the edge of a knife. Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all. Yet hope remains while all the Company is true.”
Let’s take a look at the potential glory or ruin facing the Lions in the race to the playoffs.
This Orlando City team has grown into a club that can grind out results against the best in the league, but that doesn’t mean there are no potential issues. The biggest is the loss of Ercan Kara to Turkish Super Lig club Samsunspor. Though there are those that are happy to see the Designated Player head out, the timing couldn’t be worse.
On The Mane Land PawedCast, we spoke of the danger of having only Ramiro Enrique and Jack Lynn as the backups to rookie sensation Duncan McGuire. McGuire rightly earned the starting position, but he’s still a rookie. He hasn’t played a full MLS season — the college season is shorter — meaning he might tire down the stretch. McGuire also hasn’t scored a goal in MLS since mid-July. The biggest risk is if he gets hurt, as he did in the last match against FC Cincinnati.
We don’t know the extent of McGuire’s shoulder injury, but any lost minutes are not good for the club. Enrique only has two goals and one assist to his name in his time with Orlando City. If McGuire is unavailable then Enrique is your starting striker. I like the young man, but do you want to bet the playoffs on his scoring prowess?
Behind Enrique is Jack Lynn, who has spent most of his time tearing it up in MLS NEXT Pro with Orlando City B. Yes, Lynn has 17 goals this season, but it’s not against the caliber of defense he will face if he sees minutes for the senior team. Having a guy with 13 total minutes played as the primary backup if McGuire is injured is not great. This is the one of the challenges ahead of Oscar Pareja as the hunt for the playoffs continues.
The Lions earned seven points over a tough eight-day stretch recently and are 6-1-3 over the last 10 MLS regular-season matches. That run of form is why Orlando City is sitting in third place in the Eastern Conference and even on points with the second-place New England Revolution — a club which the Lions will host in the last home match of the regular season. Maintaining that form will be a challenge.
At first glance, things don’t seem too bad for Orlando City with regard to the remaining matches. Orlando City faces four clubs below the line — CF Montreal, Inter Miami, New York City FC, and Toronto FC. So far this season, Orlando City has wins over Inter Miami and Toronto, a draw with NYCFC, and a loss to Montreal. Of course, that was before Messi arrived at Miami. NYCFC is almost a rivalry match and is away on a baseball diamond, and the Toronto match is also away.
The Lions also face three clubs currently above the playoff line — the Columbus Crew, the New England Revolution, and Nashville SC. Earlier this season, the Lions lost to both the Revolution and Nashville, while managing a road draw with Columbus. What I’m getting at is the final stretch of games is not going to be as easy as it might seem.
As I stated above, Orlando City’s margin for error is smaller thanks to the departure of Kara, but all is not lost. There’s every chance that McGuire will be able to get past the injury by the next match on Sept. 16, and the players really have come together to be better as a unit.
The emergence of Dagur Dan Thorhallsson highlights the depth of this club at certain positions. The availability of players like Martin Ojeda and Junior Urso to come off the bench or start as needed is crucial. It’s also possible that Enrique could blossom in a bigger role. Pareja is good at getting the most out of his players, and the recent results bear that out. Here’s hoping the club can have a strong finish to the regular season and head into the playoffs on a roll.