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Opinion

Three Bold Orlando City Predictions for 2024

Here are three specific bold predictions for the MLS season ahead.

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Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

Orlando City kicks off the 2024 MLS regular season this evening at home against Eastern Conference foe CF Montreal. After having disposed of one Canadian team already this week with the Concacaf Champions Cup victory Wednesday night in Langford, B.C., the Lions will look to continue the opening day success that they have enjoyed throughout their years at the expense of some other friends from the great white north.

You can catch up with all of our pregame coverage here at The Mane Land, but prior to the season officially starting this evening, I thought it was the perfect time to cover my three biggest and boldest predictions for the squad this year.

Oscar Pareja Wins Coach of the Year

While the 2023 MLS Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year recipient was the much deserving Pat Noonan for the work that he did somewhat unexpectedly with former wooden spoon winning, FC Cincinnati, there were grumblings that Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja should have been the coach to take the award home. Doing more with less and boasting the league’s best road record, as well as one of the best overall records throughout the final months of the season, it would have been easy to make the argument that Papi deserved the award. What is even more impressive with the coaching job that Pareja did last year was that after an up-and-down beginning to the campaign, many (not yours truly included) thought that the team should move on from the head coach.

After signing a new contract with the team in the off-season, Pareja returns a strong lineup, and the players without a doubt would run through a wall for their manager. Papi brings a distinctly South American flair to the Orlando City sideline, which resonates with his players, and if the end of the season form from 2023 can be reached just a little earlier this season, then Orlando and Pareja should find themselves at or near the top of the table. Playing with a target on their backs as favorites to end this season with hardware may be a new position for the Lions, but Pareja is seasoned enough to help his players drown out the noise and hunt for results. For those reasons, I think he will be named the 2024 Coach of the Year.

Multiple Players at the MLS All-Star Game

Orlando did not have anyone selected to the 2023 MLS All-Star squad last year, nor the 2022 version a year prior. But that trend ends this year, as I predict that a minimum of two Lions will see their names selected for the annual all-star matchup. Captain Robin Jansson, long recognized as one of the top center backs in Major League Soccer, will be selected to represent the purple and gold, and Designated Player Facundo Torres will also see his name selected, based upon what is going to be a stellar start to the season.

This feels less like an incredibly bold prediction, but it makes sense both on the surface and when you break down the caliber of both players. It will probably wind up being my safest of the bold predictions. Jansson has already been called upon as the new team captain and he will be the instrumental piece in keeping the Lions’ defense organized and efficient. Add in the ability for him to find a goal or two from some set pieces this year, and he becomes an instant need on the All-Star squad. Torres, on the other hand, has put up All-Star quality numbers in each of his first two seasons with Orlando City. The main problem is that he has gone on heaters to put up those numbers after the All-Star Game has come and gone. If Torres has the start to the season that everyone is projecting that he is capable of, then there is no denying his name on the ballot.

Orlando City Finishes the Year Third Overall in MLS

Success of any kind in professional sports is incredibly hard to achieve, which is why teams like the 1990s-2000s Yankees, the Tom Brady-led Patriots, and the last two decades of the Alabama Crimson Tide have been so special to witness. In a seller’s league, where top talent often finds its way across the pond, it becomes even more difficult for MLS squads to put up multiple successful years back to back as they deal with continual roster turnover.

Orlando benefits this year from bringing back a large majority of its seasoned players and has had the chance to build chemistry and continuity on and off the field. That fact alone should do wonders for the early season results. I suspect Eastern Conference teams like Cincinnati or Columbus to push towards the top of the table, as well as a team like New York City FC, which fell off last year. And there are several top quality squads out west, which will continue to pile up results against a somewhat weaker conference. With all of that said, Orlando has already proved that it can play with the best talent in MLS, and if the Lions can start the year stronger than last and continue to hunt for results on the road like they did a year ago, then they should find themselves near the top of the table come the end of the year once again.


Those are my three bold predictions for Orlando City as we start the 2024 MLS season. Do you agree with my hot takes or do you think I am riding too high on the team to start the year? Let us know the answer in the comments below. If you see me in the stadium tonight then don’t be afraid to say hey, and as always, vamos Orlando!

Opinion

Predicting Orlando City’s April Results

Let’s peek into the crystal ball and take a crack at predicting Orlando City’s games during the month of April.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Every Major League Soccer schedule has its peaks and valleys, and Orlando City is currently traversing one of the valleys. After a fast and furious start to the year that saw the Lions competing in both the Concacaf Champions Cup and MLS play, OCSC won’t play another game until next Saturday, April 13. Since we’ve got a bit of time on our hands, I wanted to take a crack at predicting the outcomes of the three games that Orlando will play during the month of April. Away we go.

Saturday, April 13 — at D.C. United

The first game back following a two-week break sees the Lions travel to the nation’s capital to take on D.C. United. D.C. has been quite the bogey team for Orlando the last two seasons, frequently getting the better of the Lions despite being one of the league’s worst teams during that time. At the time of this writing, D.C. is eighth in the East with a record of 2-1-3 (9 points). The two wins came against Montreal, which has been decent so far, and New England, which has been absolutely woeful. Christian Benteke has four goals in four games, with three of them coming in the 3-1 victory over the Revs. The Lions will be coming off two weeks to work out some of the offensive kinks we’ve seen up to this point in the season, and they should have everyone available for selection after injuries and international call-ups thinned the ranks. Now seems like as good a time as any for OCSC to turn around its recent form against DCU, and I’ll pick the Lions in this one.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-1 D.C. United.


Saturday, April 20 — at CF Montreal

After D.C., the Lions will stay on the road and take on CF Montreal north of the border in a rematch of the season opener. As previously mentioned, Montreal has had a decent start to 2024 and is currently 2-2-1 (7 points) and in 10th place. In early March the Canadian club posted back-to-back wins against FC Dallas, which has been very poor so far, and Inter Miami, which has been pretty good. Matias Coccaro leads them with three goals in five games, with an assist thrown in as well. This is Orlando nemesis Josef Martinez’s first year on the team, and he’s got a goal and two assists in 249 minutes of play. The first time the two teams played this season it was a sloppy, scoreless affair, and one in which both teams may have felt they should have been victorious. I think it’ll be a pretty evenly matched affair once again, albeit one that’s higher scoring.

Prediction: Orlando City 2-2 CF Montreal.


Saturday, April 27 — vs. Toronto FC

OCSC rounds off the month of April with a visit from Toronto FC. Thus far, Toronto has been much improved from a woeful 2023 season, and is currently an aesthetically pleasing 3-2-1, (10 points) and sitting in fifth. The three wins have come against Atlanta United, which has been good, Charlotte FC which has been decent, and New England, which — as previously mentioned — has been quite bad. The Reds dropped games to New York City FC and Sporting Kansas City, and the prevailing theme in their matches this year has been struggling to put the ball in the back of the net. TFC has only scored multiple goals once, in its 2-0 win over Atlanta, and its six goals on the year is just one better than Orlando City’s tally of five. The team also has a lengthy injury list, and Lorenzo Insigne may not be available due to a hamstring injury. I think playing at home helps see the Lions through in this one, as the boys find their shooting boots.

Prediction: Orlando City 3-1 Toronto FC.


If things go as I predicted, Orlando will take seven points from an available nine, which would be a welcome sight after a sputtering start to 2024. Much of my predictions are based on the belief that this is a good team with good players, which simply needs a bit of time to integrate new faces and new ideas, and will start playing more in line with preseason expectations once it’s had time to do so. If chemistry is still slow to form after the two-week layoff, then the month of April could be a very different story, but for now I’m choosing the path of optimism. Vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

International Duty Provides Facundo Torres an Opportunity for Reset

Orlando City needs its Uruguayan star to find his best form.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

Orlando City closes out the month of March against Eastern Conference foes the New York Red Bulls tonight in Central Florida. For one of the first times this season, the Lions will look to take the pitch with a seemingly healthy and rested lineup. Orlando demonstrated what it was capable of last time out with a full week of training under its belt with a complete 2-0 victory against Austin FC.

The victory could be considered even more impressive due to the fact that it was achieved without six regular starters, five of whom were away representing their home nations and Cesar Araujo, who missed the match due to injury. Araujo’s availability at this time still is unknown but it is reasonable to expect that the remaining players who were away over the last week and a half will return to their usual slots in the starting 11.

March results came in like a lamb and are hopefully going to finish like a lion in terms of victories for Orlando City. The same can be said for Designated Player Facundo Torres. Now in his third season with Orlando, I feel like right about this time every year I have written an article about the team needing more from Torres. And then, every year Torres has responded in a big way throughout the late spring and early summer.

Zero goals and zero assists over three MLS matches is certainly not the start that Torres expected to begin the year, nor is it the type of start that Orlando could afford to bury behind other players’ efforts as the entire offensive unit has struggled to find its footing out of the gate. On the season thus far, Torres is completing 80.5% of his passes and has registered only a lone shot attempt on target on two total scoring attempts. He did manage three goals and an assist in Concacaf Champions Cup play, so the offense is there, it just hasn’t found its way into MLS matches yet.

For Orlando to climb its way back up the table, Torres has to reach the gear that everyone knows he is capable of now. Not the middle of June, or early July, but right now.

Torres is no stranger to slow starts in MLS play, but even by his standards 2024 has been sluggish so far. In 2022, his first year in the league, Torres managed one assist and five shot attempts (none on target) through his first three MLS matches. A year ago, El Cuervo scored one goal on five shots, putting just the one on target. So he’s a few shots and a goal contribution behind his usual pace, despite contributing offensively in Concacaf play.

After a short stint with the Uruguay Men’s National Team, Torres’ time to be the catalyst that Orlando City needs has arrived. The good news for Facu and Orlando City fans is that the Red Bulls are a squad against which Torres has historically preformed very strongly. The attacking winger scored three goals against the Red Bulls in 2023 alone.

I believe that Torres benefited from a short break away from the squad and will start to turn the corner soon. I will excitedly and expectantly be on the lookout for Torres to regain his form tonight and hopefully that will help elevate all of his teammates.


Is there anyone else who you think benefited from the early season international period? Let us know in the comments below and as always, vamos Orlando!

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Opinion

Strong Early Season Competition an Opportunity for Growth

Schedule congestion and tough opponents present opportunities for growth.

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Image courtesy of Orlando City SC / Mark Thor

It is hard to imagine a more intense start to the season than the Lions have faced competing in both the regular season and the Concacaf Champions Cup at the same time, yet that is exactly the task that the boys in purple find themselves dealing with only days into the season. With both away and home matches already in the books, let’s examine how strong early season competition can be a key factor in the growth of the squad as the season progresses.

For comparison we can look back to one year ago, as thanks to winning the U.S. Open Cup, the Lions found themselves in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time in club history. During their short foray in the 2023 version of the competition, they were matched up against Mexican powerhouse Tigres UANL in a two-leg competition. Orlando did something that many MLS sides can not boast by coming out of the first leg in Mexico without conceding a goal and only failed to advance because of the competition’s away goals rule.

At the time, and even looking back through rose-colored glasses, those two performances demonstrated the quality that Orlando City was ultimately capable of, and it was a form which Orlando showcased in the later stretches of the 2023 season.

This year, once again Orlando is faced with stiff competition throughout its early season matches, which present a grand opportunity to build team chemistry and fortitude that will only truly manifest itself as the season progresses. While Cavalry FC may have not presented much a challenge on the pitch, the logistics of starting a season off thousands of miles away in the Pacific Northwest were challenges that the Lions had to face before a 48-hour turnaround to open the regular season against a CF Montreal side which some are projecting to be a surprise force in the Eastern Conference. Sandwich in the close-out leg against Cavalry in the CCC at home some 72 hours later, and you once again have a recipe for tired legs but early season growth through adversity.

Up next was Saturday’s forgettable trip to square off against archrival Inter Miami. A year ago, Orlando City was one of the only MLS sides to truly frustrate one of the world’s best and unfortunately for players, coaches and fans alike, the first meeting between the rival sides in 2024 ended with a landslide victory for Messi and friends. Still, despite the frustrating loss, there are lessons to be learned and mistakes to correct which can only help the squad grow as the season progresses.

As if all of the schedule congestion was not enough, Orlando learned that its prize for dispatching Cavalry in the CCC was a rematch against Tigres, once again in a two-match, survive-and-advance format. The first game will be played two and a half days after having been beaten down by Miami and the second will come a week later, with yet another MLS regular-season match crammed in between.

All in all, once Orlando City is done facing off against Tigres, the team will have traveled roughly 9,700 miles for matches in the first 21 days of the season and played a match roughly every 60 hours. These matches and the quality of the opponents present Orlando and its players with numerous chances for individual and squad growth, and the experience, especially for still a somewhat young team, is something OCSC can draw upon once the late season and playoff push portion of the calendar arrive. I truly believe this early in the season the importance of the results of the matches come secondary to the opportunities for growth when faced with so many challenges so quickly.


Let us know in the comments below if you think that the early season match ups against quality opponents will ultimately hurt or benefit Orlando City and, as always, vamos Orlando!

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