Lions held to 1-1 road draw against New York Red Bulls on Sunday night
By Official Florida FC
The longest playoff drought in Major League Soccer is over.
Orlando City will play in the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in club history. The Lions, who are unbeaten in their last 12 matches, clinched a playoff berth on Sunday night on the road against the New York Red Bulls.
The Red Bulls (7-8-4, 25 points) scored a 95th minute stoppage time goal to salvage a 1-1 result. Orlando (8-2-8, 32 points) is fourth in the Eastern Conference with four games remaining.
“That’s a good opportunity for me to recognize the effort and the desire and the passion that the players have for this Club and for their job and their team,” Orlando City manager Oscar Pareja told the club’s website.
“I mentioned at the beginning that with some adversity, that every team faces at some point, we’re facing it now and the players kept doing a fantastic job on going away against a good team like New York Red Bulls. Losing two points in the last minute is something that magnifies what they’re doing. The boys are doing a good job, the guys that are coming into the lineup are responding well. Certainly today we are disappointed with losing those two points because we should have walked away with three for sure.”
Nani opened the scoring with a penalty kick in the 56th minute. The Designated Player has five goals and five assists in 1,133 minutes this season.
Two things have turned Orland from also-ran to one of the steadiest clubs in MLS this season: Pareja’s quick-passing system where shape and discipline are paramount. The second is the wealth of creative options in purple and white.
Nani led the Lions with 12 goals in 2019. This year, the Portuguese is one of four players with at least four goals. Forward Daryl Dike (4 goals, 3 asssists) drew the penalty that Nani converted on Sunday night. Homegrown player Benji Michel (4 goals, 2 assists) has been an energy infusion in his 16 appearances, averaging either a goal or an assist every 112 minutes. Then, there is midfielder Chris Mueller, who is playing his way into consideration for the U.S. men’s national team pool after producing eight goals and five assists in 1,106 minutes this season.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position,” Dike told mlssoccer.com. “Obviously we just made the playoffs today, but I think we’re going to carry on. The goal wasn’t just playoffs. We’re not done now. We just keep going and keep going. We want three points every single game and we want to finish the highest in the table. That’s the main goal.”
This year, 10 teams make the MLS Cup playoffs from the Eastern Conference. However, Orlando was likely to qualify for the postseason under the current format, or any previous itineration.
Orlando City twice advanced to the USL Playoffs before joining Major League Soccer in 2015. Orlando’s six-year playoff drought was the longest active streak in MLS.
Orlando has four games remaining. All four opponents have something to play for. Orlando’s next two opponents, Inter Miami (5-11-3, 18 points) and Atlanta (5-10-4, 19 points), are currently outside the playoffs. Montreal (7-10-2, 23 points) is eighth in the Eastern Conference while Nashville (5-6-6, 21 points) is currently ninth.