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Major League Soccer’s Best-of-Three Format Initial Thoughts

Do you love or hate the new playoff format?

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

The first matches of the 2023 MLS playoffs are officially in the rearview mirror and with their passing, fans have been able to take in the new format, in which the first-round winners are decided in a best-of-three series. What follows are some of my initial reactions to the new format.

Home Field Domination

Throughout the majority of the matches played over the first week of the playoffs, home teams not only secured victories, but often did so in dominating fashion. Sporting Kansas City was the only team to win on the road, upsetting regular-season Western Conference leaders St. Louis City SC, 4-1. Meanwhile, outside of Orlando City’s one-goal victory over Nashville SC, only one other match shared the same margin of victory, the Houston Dynamo’s 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake. For the remainder of the matches, the competition, or lack thereof, supported the notion that regardless of the time of year, road wins are hard to come by in Major League Soccer. Here is to hoping that in the second match of the best of three, the year’s best road team, Orlando City, is able to continue its great road form and close out the series. 

Lack of Drama

With the majority of the matches being decided well before the regulation whistle was even blown, the newest postseason wrinkle (tie games in the first round going directly to penalties) was a no show. The format is similar to this year’s Leagues Cup and not entirely different from a version used in the MLS NEXT Pro division in the regular season. The game mode was teased in the Wild Card round, as Sporting Kansas City advanced after winning a penalty kick shootout 4-2 over the San Jose Earthquakes. The MLS front office is trying to appeal to a broader American sports fan demographic with the move to advance directly to penalties after 90 minutes of match time, but at least throughout the first eight matches of Round 1, the shiny new postseason toy remained tucked away on the shelf.

Absences Magnified by Not Crushing

After a season that officially kicked off at the tail end of February, including a multitude of additional in-season competitions and spanning 34 regular-season matches, it sure does feel like a large ask of players’ bodies and the training staff tables to keep the squad game ready for an additional two matches, compared to previous one-and-done playoff years. Two large injuries already have left an impact on the postseason as FC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund picked up an injury in the week leading up to the playoffs and subsequently will undergo surgery on his hamstring, and FC Dallas star Alan Velasco exited his team’s first playoff game early with what is now known to be an ACL tear.

Besides losing players to injury, other playoff teams, such as Atlanta United, were without stars due to suspensions carried over from Decision Day. Without Thiago Almada, who missed the opening playoff match due to picking up a red card on Decision Day, Atlanta United appeared lost and only managed one shot on the evening. In previous playoff formats, missing a star player from either injury or suspension in a single-elimination game could spell disaster quickly and be the end of the postseason before it even got started. With the best-of-three format, teams who were subjected to an integral player missing the first match still have time to retool either with depth off the bench or upon the individual’s return. 


Those are some of my instant reactions to this new format. Do I like it? I’m still undecided. If Orlando City advances on the road, then of course it was the greatest format change in the history of sports. If the Lions lose in a shootout after a draw in the third match, then absolutely not, and whoever came up with the idea shall be publicly shamed until the end of time. What are your feelings on the best-of-three format? Let us know in the comments below and, as always, vamos Orlando! 

Opinion

Orlando City’s 10th Anniversary is the Time to Remember the Club’s Originals

Orlando City’s 10th year in MLS should be used to honor the players who built the club.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

The 2024 season is Orlando City’s 10th in Major League Soccer. The club has scheduled several events throughout the year to celebrate having been in the country’s top division for a decade, but the season should also be a time for fans to reflect on the people who made it happen without getting to experience the result.

Orlando City arrived in Orlando in 2010 with the goal of reaching MLS. However, it was the first professional soccer team in the city since the 1990s and resides in a football hotbed, leaving many to wonder if the team would be successful. The most famous doubt came at the team’s inaugural media day, when longtime WESH 2 sportscaster Pat Clake told club founder Phil Rawlins and inaugural Head Coach Adrian Heath that, while he wished them luck, a professional soccer team in Orlando would never work.

The Orlando project got off to a much better start than the Austin Aztex, Rawlins’ former project. During the team’s first season in 2011, Orlando City substantially outdrew its predecessor, proving there was an appetite for soccer. But there was another factor to the team’s popularity. The Lions won…a lot.

The success of a team at home has a significant impact on the enjoyment of attending games. In four USL Pro seasons, Orlando City was 40-3-9 (W-L-D) at the Citrus Bowl (now Camping World Stadium) and Walt Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports, winning three regular season titles and two USL Pro championships. Seeing the local team win and score frequently is much more likely to result in people returning for more games. That’s exactly what the Lions did, and it helped to create a following.

When MLS considered Orlando City for expansion, the league looked at average attendance, season ticket numbers, and community involvement. All of these factors were directly related to the team’s success on the field. For this reason, the key players on those teams are responsible for Orlando City being in MLS in the first place. 

In addition to their work on the field, the players from the USL Pro era worked in the community to build a following. They spoke with local groups and were active throughout Central Florida, convincing people to attend games. It was all about the effort of getting the team into MLS. Unfortunately, many of those players didn’t get to experience the results of their labor.

The core of Orlando City’s team from 2011 to 2013 remained the same, with Miguel Gallardo in goal, Luke Boden at left back, Rob Valentino at center back, Kevin Molino and Jamie Watson in the midfield, and Dennis Chin up top. The success they had resulted in the club being announced as the newest expansion side on Nov. 19, 2013. However, of those six stalwarts, only Boden and Molino continued with the team into MLS.

Over the past 10 years, Orlando City has had several star and fan favorite players come and go. As the club’s USL Pro era gets further in the rearview mirror, the players who built the organization are forgotten or unknown by a large portion of the fanbase that didn’t experience the early seasons.

To the club’s credit, Orlando City worked to keep the memory of the team’s foundation alive in recent years. This preseason, Chin, Lewis Neal (a 2011 original who returned to the team in MLS), and Dom Dwyer (who was on loan with the team in 2013 and returned in 2017) were involved in the popular away jersey unveiling. Additionally, Chin signed autographs and took part in a Q&A session during the Society XXI preseason game against the New England Revolution. They’ve had other events, like the 2022 U.S. Open Cup games against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, when former players have been invited back.

Additionally, the club raised banners last year for the 2011 and 2013 USL Pro championships and announced this year that it will display the trophies in a new permanent exhibit called “The Vault.” The club also released an updated version of the three-lion USL Pro logo from those first four seasons.

When people consider the factors that resulted in Orlando City joining MLS in 2015, the fan support during the USL Pro years is the first thing that comes to mind. But without the success of those teams and the work the players put into building the following, the club likely never would’ve made it to the top division. This 10th anniversary season is a good time to remember those club legends.

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Opinion

The Legacy Kit: Initial Reactions

Orlando City debuts a new kit to start the 2024 season.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

One of the telltale signs that the start of the Major League Soccer season is upon us is the annual tradition of teams releasing their newest kits to fanfare and sometimes even dismay. It’s the time of year when fans from around the league critique the home or away jersey that their players will don for the upcoming season.

Thanks to an accidental leak from video game EA FC 24 that made public kits from various squads around MLS, savvy fans of Orlando City have had some low-resolution ideas of what the team’s new away kit could look like for several weeks now. It should come as no shock to anyone that planning, designing, and marketing a new kit is a gigantic undertaking, and I was a little saddened to see the leak hit the news. I had hoped that it wouldn’t ruin the magic or undermine all the hard work that the club had put into the debut.

Tucked away online in forums and chats, fans speculated and dissected everything from “spoil-gate” regarding the new potential kit. From the color combinations, to the design, and even to the crest logo, not an inch of the eventual jersey was left undiscussed. I would like to think that the potential kit created so much of a stir online prior to its release date because not only was its predecessor, “The Sunshine Kit,” an absolute banger, but also because this year’s new jersey will help usher in the 10th season in MLS for Orlando City.

Whatever the design of the kit was, it would bear the responsibility of uniting so many amazing moments throughout club history. The gravitas of the unveiling moment was certainly not lost on anyone associated directly with the club or the fans in attendance in downtown Orlando when the club debuted the Legacy Kit along with a walk down memory lane of all the jerseys that had come before.

I have spent some time with the authentic version of the Legacy Kit in my possession and my reaction to it has not wavered. The creative and marketing teams absolutely smashed this one out of the park. My biggest fear after viewing some of the low resolution leak images from a video game was that the base color would be plain white.

Up close, the light lavender of the jersey stands out immediately and makes a bold statement for an away kit. It ties in the purple, red, and gold perfectly. The colors give way to the amazing throwback crest, harking back to the initial birth of the club in a perfect synergy of past and present. I could not be higher on this jersey right now, and my wife didn’t even bat an eye when we got home from the reveal event only for me to put it on straight away.

If there are any doubters out there still at this point, I will simply add these two cents: you must see it in person, even the formal press release images do not do it enough justice.


“Honor thy history” is the inscription on the inside of the collar and I could not think of a better way for the club to do just that with this new Legacy Kit. Let us know in the comments below if you have already picked one up, are planning to, or may still be on the fence about it, and as always, vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

2024 a Pivotal Year for Michael Halliday

Mikey Halliday has a lot to play for in 2024 after showing flashes of what he’s capable of last season.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

The 2023 season started very well for Mikey Halliday. He began the year as Orlando City’s first-choice right back and largely played well, as he got the most consistent MLS minutes of his young career. He had the job positively locked down for the first several months of the season, even slotting back into the starting XI after returning from a stint at the 2023 U-20 World Cup. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in late June that put him on the shelf until Aug. 20, and once he had made his return, Dagur Dan Thorhallsson had firmly cemented himself as the starting right back, and Halliday wouldn’t make another start until Decision Day in a game in which the Lions had nothing to play for.

On the whole, the young fullback was a victim of circumstances outside of his control last year. Thorhallsson was able to step in and do a solid job in an unfamiliar position, and Oscar Pareja is the kind of coach who prefers to tinker as little as possible once he’s found something that’s working.

With that being said, Halliday enters this season with a lot of promise and a lot to play for. It’ll be interesting to see what Pareja decides to do with the fullback position, and nothing seems to be set in stone. While Thorhallsson ended the year as the starter, the departure of Junior Urso means that he and Felipe are the only experienced options in central midfield behind Cesar Araujo and Wilder Cartagena. His versatility is such that he’s also a legitimate backup option at winger, and Gaston Gonzalez being sent out on loan means that the Icelandic player has risen higher in that pecking order as well.

With right back being the youngster’s natural position, he has more upside than Dagur Dan when it comes to playing the position in a more traditional style, although he was able to provide two assists in just 847 minutes on the field. As a converted midfielder, Thorhallsson has an edge when it comes to being more of a facilitator from fullback, although his two goals and three assists in 1,195 regular season minutes didn’t vastly outpace Halliday.

If Halliday is able to regain his starting position and play well, it could serve as a building block for advancing his career. He’s already gotten some run with the U-20 USMNT, playing six games at the Concacaf U-20 Championship, and also seeing some time at last year’s U-20 World Cup. Playing well for Orlando and staying in the picture for the youth national team setup will attract plenty of eyeballs and could see him get a solid move somewhere down the line.

On the flip side, if Thorhallsson maintains his grip on the starting job, then Halliday’s path to playing time gets much more complicated. The departure of Luca Petrasso on loan means that Kyle Smith is likely the backup to Rafael Santos on the left, leaving Halliday to back up Dagur Dan on the right side. Young players need to be on the field in order to keep developing, and Mikey being limited to rotating in and playing cup games wouldn’t be ideal at this stage in his career, although it would be far from the end of the world.


In short, Halliday has a lot to play for this year. Consistent playing time and good performances should help spur on the development of a promising young career, while limited minutes would make it more difficult to build on the potential he’s already shown. He’ll be one of Orlando’s players to keep a close eye on.

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