The Eastern Conference playoff race could not be any tighter than it is right now, and so Orlando’s late win against D.C, United is without a doubt their biggest win – by far – of the season. Not only did it catapult them above their opponents, but it also kept them ahead of Montréal who got another impressive win to keep their own playoff push very much on track.
It’s a fact that Orlando have been struggling lately and this was only their second win in eight – a stretch that has included four crushing defeats. In saying that, I still get the sense that at their very best, they have the right head coach in Oscar Pareja, the right star player in Nani and, in Daryl Dike, they have the perfect No. 9 who may find his best form at just the right time.
I’ve been on record about my thoughts on Dike’s game – his combination of pace and power, but also link-up play, touch, 1-on-1 finishing and aerial prowess make him unique among MLS forwards. If he can stay fit, and maintain his form, Orlando are a much better team and have a chance of attaining the lofty goals they entered the season with. But anything short of the best version of Dike, and they’ll have a very early playoff exit at best.
Orlando are going to have to be one of those teams that scores at a rate that negates their bad defending. They concede too many goals to be a team that can hope to 1-0 their way to glory, and so the only question remaining is whether they are good enough to outscore the teams remaining on their schedule.
At first glance, I think they face a mammoth task to hold onto third place and I think they’ll have to hope to get into the playoffs as a sixth seed at best because having to face a dominant New England, a hungry Columbus, a Nashville side with a league-best three defeats and an in-form Montréal team hot on their heels – twice – as five of your last six games is no small task. You’d think the only surefire win would be the game at Cincinnati, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see my friend and former teammate, Tyrone Marshall, give them that new manager bump teams often get when a coaching change occurs.
So all in all, this was a huge win delivered by a player who may hold the key to their destiny once they get to the postseason. But a closer look at their recent form and remaining games makes me think Orlando will have to go into the playoffs as a lower seed and then rely on their attacking firepower to overcome their leaky backline if they hope to do anything of note in November and December.
When Thierry Henry moved Romell Quioto from the wing to center forward during his spell in charge of Montréal, I understood why he did it. It’s a move that a young Henry once had to make early in his career and we all know how that story went.
Nevertheless, on the surface, it didn’t make much sense to take such a dangerous wide player – excellent in 1v1 situations – and move him into the middle where it’s more crowded and congested. But the fruits of that decision have been evident as Quioto has been quite outstanding ever since that move, and he was on target again in Montréal’s win over Atlanta.
What I like about Quioto through the middle is that he actually looks like a center forward, not like a winger who is being asked to play centrally. His brace took him to five goals in his last five games and took Montréal to within touching distance of third place in the East.
Credit must also be given to Wilfried Nancy, who is squeezing every bit of talent from so many on his team. The aforementioned Quioto and Djordje Mihailovic are enjoying career years, and despite a couple of recent defeats, their form has been trending upward for the most part. If fifth place and 40 points with just six games remaining were offered to this team at the start of the season, they’d have taken it with both hands.
Montréal have always struck me as one of those teams that has everything – a good fan base and an invested ownership group – except the on-field success that all teams crave. For a time, Ignacio Piatti gave enough highlight-worthy moments to satisfy fans despite the lack of true success, and Didier Drogba and Marco di Viao did the same before him. Now, despite not having that clear MVP-level player, they just might have the collective needed to do something special.
So even though they’d have taken what they’ve done had it been offered to them back in February, now that we are here, I sense that they feel they can achieve even more. In order for that to happen, let me state the obvious: Quioto has to stay fit and in form, as does Victor Wanyama, who I think has been mostly excellent this season, and they also likely need to win three of their remaining six while picking up a point somewhere as well.
It’s very doable, and should they do it, I don’t think many teams will fancy having to face them in the playoffs – especially if the game is in Montréal, where they have usually been excellent and because of the threat they possess on the counter.
Brian White keeps Whitecaps' hopes alive
With eight goals in his last nine MLS appearances, Brian White is a man on fire – and his first career hat trick took his Vancouver Whitecaps to within touching distance of the red line in the Western Conference. The Whitecaps have lost only once in the last five games, but if they're to make the playoffs, they’ll have to do it the hard way as their next three games are against Seattle, Sporting and Portland. However, with White’s current form and their overall play in recent weeks, they should feel confident going up against anyone.
There was a lot to love about each of White’s goals, especially the first and third. The little flick around the corner to his teammate was very good, but the best part about it is that he didn’t stand and admire his pass, he kept running to follow a potential rebound and he was rewarded for it.
As for his third goal, it was such a great header, full of power and precision of the highest level – I only scored one header during my whole career and it was from two yards out, but I can still appreciate a fantastic headed finish when I see one. Not only was it a great goal, it was also the perfect way to cap off a tremendous match-winning performance.