Given their undeniably talented roster but occasionally erratic form, Orlando have been one of the harder teams to assess in 2021. But with the club seemingly on the rise and the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs looming, the Extratime crew took a shot at figuring out exactly what the expectations should be for Oscar Pareja's group down the stretch and into the postseason.
Co-host Matt Doyle has been saying for a while that Orlando's ceiling can be quite high whenever they get back to full strength, with some of their midseason lull attributed to a rash of injuries.
"Even during this tough stretch, there were reasons why it wasn’t happening in Orlando," Doyle said. "Often it came down to injuries and loss of form, and now Daryl Dike is back and healthy and the fullbacks are back and healthy. Nani’s been rested and Mauricio Pereyra’s been rested. Jhegson Mendez is back."
All told, Doyle said this remains as talented a group as Orlando have had since joining MLS in 2015, which should give their fans a measure of comfort.
"I understand why Orlando City fans have been freaking out over the past month," Doyle said. "They have seen so many midseason collapses or late-summer collapses in their time. There’s a lot of trauma that they’re collectively working through but this team is good and they’re more talented than those teams of the first half-decade and the bottom is not going to drop out on this side. In fact, now that they’re all healthy, I do expect them to make a real run in October and it wouldn’t shock me if they’re right there neck and neck with Nashville for the second seed by the time it’s all said and done."
Co-host David Gass was slightly less bullish, expressing concerns about Orlando's ability to consistently generate goals.
"I’d like to see more from Orlando and it’s still, you watch them play and it’s hard for them to score," Gass said. "It’s not always hard for them to create chances but they really need to throw every single number forward and create chaos to get opportunities. And then Dike scores this goal off a set piece in the [97th] minute and that’s awesome, but it’s not repeatable stuff. I thought it was frustrating last year in the postseason that they didn’t have a way to create goals.
"It was a struggle against NYCFC and it was a struggle obviously against the Revs in which they lost, and I don’t think that that has changed this year. Oscar Pareja has created a team where the floor is very high and if Nani has a great game, if Dike dominates someone they can go to an Eastern Conference Final. If not, there’s no repeatable way where you can guarantee chance creation in the postseason when it’s hard to score, when it’s hard to create chances. That’s the other part of it."
They're fair questions that will likely continue to be asked through Decision Day (Nov. 7) and beyond, but Doyle maintained that he has few worries about pegging the Lions as a legitimate contender.
"I’m zero percent concerned about Orlando City," he said. "I think Orlando City’s going to end up going into the playoffs like, ‘Ooh man, nobody’s going to want to play this team.’ That’s where my money is for Orlando City over the next month."
For more from Extratime, check out their latest episode here.