The Schedule Breakdown
As the start of the season draws near, I decided to take a look at Orlando City's 34 game MLS schedule. I wanted to do this so I could identify the stretches of the season where we can expect some good results and, on the flip side, some bad results as well.
The Starting Six
Real Salt Lake (H)
Colorado Rapids (A)
Chicago Fire (H)
LA Galaxy (A)
New York Red Bulls (A)
Montreal Impact (H)
I don't think it's reaching out on a limb to claim that we've been given a rather steady introduction to the season. Of the six games, five are winnable. Oscar Pareja will want to start his Orlando tenure strong with a win at home. Then we travel to Colorado where a close affair is to be expected after their impressive offseason.
Unfortunately, Nani will be out for these first two games but I think we are more than capable of handling it. His quality will be missed but I'm confident that Pareja will find a way to cope with the loss. His personal motto isn't "find the way" for nothing. These are the situations he excels in.
After the Colorado game, we return home to face a Chicago team who will be playing the final game of a three-game road trip to start the season. With road games against Seattle and New England, there is every possibility that Chicago could be left with 0 points from two games heading into their showdown with us. We will need to take advantage of this and take maximum points from this fixture.
Moving right along, Orlando will face the strongest opponent of our opening six on the road in the LA Galaxy. With Pareja, anything is possible, but this is looking like a tough one. Luckily, history is on our side. In 18 total MLS meetings, Pareja is 9-7-2 (W-L-D) against the LA Galaxy, although he is only 3-5-2 when LA is at home. Something to think about though is Pareja hasn't lost in his last 6 meetings with the Galaxy. My final stat about this fixture; 13 of the 18 meetings between Pareja and the Galaxy were decided by 1 goal when either party wins. Look out for an upset here Orlando fans.
We finish off our mini road trip with a game against the New York Red Bulls. The Red Bulls will be playing only their 2nd game at home and will want to play well for their fans after long trips to RSL, Minnesota, and Miami. No matter how underwhelming their offseason has been, we could be in for a tough night if we underestimate them.
We then play Montreal at home in what is a must-win game for me. They very well could be rotating for a CCL semifinal if they get past Deportivo Saprissa and the winner of the Seattle and Olimpia tie. And if they aren't, we still need 3 points from this game as the next set of fixtures isn't so kind.
Prediction: 11 points
The Terrible Ten
Columbus Crew (A)
FC Cincinnati (H)
Atlanta United (H)
Montreal Impact (A)
Houston Dynamo (H)
Minnesota United (H)
DC United (A)
Columbus Crew (H)
Portland Timbers (H)
Sporting Kansas City (A)
Looking at that list scares me a bit. This is nothing short of a hard run of fixtures. The only thing I like about it is the consistent back-to-back home games. The lack of travel will be a massive benefit to us when we are facing some of these playoff-bound teams. Oh, and the lack of midweek fixtures is nice. Our only midweek game during this run is the Wednesday kickoff against Houston between two Saturday games.
While at this point in the season it is hard to predict how well a team will play, I feel almost certain that Columbus will be looking good. With a solid defense, an all-star midfield, and a promising offense, Columbus will be pushing for the top 3 spots in the East. With that being said, they do still have to go out and prove that they are good enough. Games against NYCFC, Seattle, and Toronto (among others) before us will be a good gauge for what we can expect.
Next up is FC Cincinnati and guys, I'm telling you now, FC Cincinnati will be good next season. I don't want to see any of my readers underestimating them. Kubo (DP), Locadia (DP), Regattin, Gyau, Medunjanin, Petterson. These six new additions will all be starting-caliber players who will contribute heavily this season. Luckily, they will be coming off of their own little run of hell with Atlanta (x 2), DC, Toronto, and New England all playing them before we do. We can only hope that they lose most of those games and are low on confidence. If they string together some wins though, they'll be very high on confidence coming into this one.
After the FC Cincinnati match, we face Atlanta United at home. We all know just how big of a matchup this is as it could be the first time we beat Atlanta United. I really believe that the players will be hyped and ready to get our first victory over our rivals. I won't say it's now or never, but this poor run against Atlanta has to end soon and this is looking like the best opportunity to do it.
The next three games are winnable but they come with a catch. After traveling to Montreal, we have our first midweek game of the season against Houston at home. The beauty of this specific part of the schedule is that we play Montreal at 1:00 PM EST on a Saturday and could very well be home Saturday night. That basically negates the effects of a long flight to Canada before our matchup against the Dynamo midweek. That weekend, we remain at home to play Minnesota United, another team we have yet to defeat in their short time in the MLS.
Now comes the end of that list where I believe we can expect to drop some points. We are up against four teams who, in my opinion, will be fighting for home playoff games this season. DC United on the road will be a tough game to come away with a win. Columbus and Portland then come to Orlando and will be no pushovers. Then, we end the run of games with a matchup against the revamped Sporting Kansas City. Expect some losses here.
Prediction: 16 points (27 points)
The Road Trip Sandwich pt.1
New York Red Bulls (H)
New England Revolution (A)
Chicago Fire (A)
New York City FC (A)
Toronto FC (H)
This run is interesting. We have 5 winnable games on paper but three away games in a row is not easy. It's made somewhat easier by the fact that they are all in the Eastern Conference. We won't be traveling across the country throughout the week, which helps. Unfortunately, we face off against NYCFC in what will be our second midweek game of the season. Again though, it's only in New York. It's not as though we are going to Los Angeles to play this game.
We square off against Toronto FC on July 4th to end the "sandwich." Toronto will have a game the midweek after us but it is only the first leg of the quarterfinal round of the Canadian Championship and the two teams they have a possibility of facing don't look good enough to cause Toronto to rotate too heavily. Expect a close game against last years finalists.
Prediction: 7 points (34 points)
A Fork In The Road?
Inter Miami (H)
FC Dallas (A)
Philadelphia Union (H)
FC Cincinnati (A)
Vancouver Whitecaps (A)
It's just a gut feeling but I think we could struggle through this run. We have our first-ever matchup with Inter Miami in what I think will be a draw, the return of Oscar Pareja to FC Dallas, and a home game against a Philadelphia team who will be in the playoff conversation. We then travel to FC Cincinnati in what I believe will be a very tough game as I'm predicting them to be strong at home this season. Finally, the team will make the long trip to Vancouver to face the Whitecaps who I'm almost certain will be pushing for a playoff spot.
Prediction: 5 points (39 points)
The Road Trip Sandwich pt.2
DC United (H)
Inter Miami (A)
Atlanta United (A)
Philadelphia Union (A)
Nashville SC (H)
Another rough patch of games. We face off with DC United in what I think will turn out to be a must-win game. That is because of the following "road trip." I put road trip in quotes because we face our southeastern rivals in 2 of the 3 games. Those 2 games also mark our third and final midweek game of the season as we play Inter Mimi on Thursday and Atlanta United on Sunday during MLS Rivalry Week. After those high-intensity games, we head to Philadelphia looking to gain some points that we may have dropped. We finish this group of games back at home in another must-win game against Nashville. Anything less than 3 points here would be a major disappointment.
Prediction: 7 points (46 points)
The Playoff Push
New York City FC (H)
Toronto FC (A)
New England Revolution (H)
If 50 points is the benchmark for playoffs, we are really cutting it close. By my predictions, we would need 4 points from the last 3 games to achieve 50. It's doable but difficult. Especially with these three teams as our final three. I'm expecting NYCFC and Toronto to be the leaders of the East and New England to be in the playoff race. It could very well be a win or go home scenario on the final day of the season.
Prediction: 4 points (50 points)
I am really positive about this schedule. Our long road trips consist of all Eastern Conference teams and we only have three midweek games to worry about. And, those three midweek games consist of one home game and two away games in the East. I also like our start to the season. We have every chance to go on a run and gain some momentum early on. This would win the fans over and bring a really positive vibe around the team going into the summer months. Speaking of summer months, every game from May 6th to August 23rd is played at or after 7:00 PM EST. No more 88° kickoffs. There's definitely a lot to like with this schedule.
'Til next time, this has been Gavin Rushnell and #VamosOrlando.