MLS Footnotes: Orlando City eyeing third straight MLS playoff berth

MLS Footnotes: Orlando City eyeing third straight MLS playoff berth

Updated Aug. 28, 2022 5:23 p.m. ET

By Doug McIntyre
FOX Sports Soccer Writer

Editor's Note: MLS Footnotes takes you inside the major talking points around the league and across American soccer.

It remains the best day in the history of Orlando City Soccer Club.

On a warm and sunny day late winter afternoon in 2015, in front of more than 62,000 purple-clad fans at what was then still known at the Citrus Bowl, the upstart Lions — who’d captured the imagination of fans across central Florida before ever kicking a ball in Major League Soccer — drew with fellow expansion side New York City FC 1-1 on a late free kick by Brazilian great Kaká.


Looking around the packed stadium, it was impossible not to think that Orlando City was destined for success. Surely they’d be challenging for MLS Cups in no time.

Seven years later, it hasn’t worked out that way. Orlando missed the playoffs in each of their first five seasons. The arrival of coach Oscar Pareja two years ago stabilized the club, but it’s NYCFC that heads south this Sunday (7:30 p.m. PT, FS1/FOX Deportes/FOX Sports app) as the defending league champs.

Still, Sunday presents an opportunity for the Lions. It could mark an inflection point for a home side desperately trying to secure a third consecutive postseason berth. Pareja’s squad is coming off a pair of badly-needed road wins that snapped a three-game losing streak and boosted them to fifth in the Eastern Conference. Now they head home with some genuine momentum, or so it would seem.

If MLS teams enjoy the biggest home field advantage in North American sports, somebody forgot to tell Orlando. The club has won just five of their 14 matches this season at Exploria Stadium, the custom-built, 25,000-seat downtown arena to which they moved in 2017. Meanwhile, the Pigeons have been superb away from the Bronx (and Queens, and Connecticut) all year; last weekend’s 2-0 triumph in Chicago gave them their seventh clean sheet on the road, two shy of the record the LA Galaxy set in 2010.

NYCFC has had Orlando’s number since both that inaugural match in 2015, going unbeaten (5W-0L-5T) over the last 10 meetings. But the visitors are also vulnerable. Star striker Valentin Castellanos was transferred to Girona in Spain’s La Liga last month and hasn’t been replaced. Starting forwards Héber and Talles Magno have just 12 goals in 48 games between them in 2022; Castellanos, last year’s Golden Boot winner, had 13 in 17 before he departed. Title-winning coach Ronny Deila also left midseason for a new job in Europe.

This is a winnable match for the hosts, then. With just two points separating Orlando and the eighth-place New England Revolution, a third straight victory would provide some breathing room, put the rest of the East on notice and create real momentum ahead of the Sept. 7 U.S. Open Cup final, when Orlando will finally have a chance to play for some silverware (with all respect due to 2020’s pandemic-inspired MLS Is Back Tournament, at which they finished runner-up to the Portland Timbers) against Cinderella second-tier challenger Sacramento Republic in front of its patient supporters.

What a day that could be.


1. The West’s best meet in Austin

Before Sunday’s marquee clash in the East, the top two teams in the West face off Friday in Texas’ capital. The tilt is somewhat anticlimactic compared to their first meeting in May, when second-year Austin stunned LAFC at Banc of California, temporarily took control of first place and proved that its early season success was no fluke.

Josh Wolff’s team briefly reclaimed the top spot as recently as Week 20. But LAFC’s recent seven-game winning streak has created separation atop the standings, with the Supporters Shield frontrunner now nine points clear of the Verde with just eight regular season games remaining for both clubs.

2. LAFC not done dealing 

With the possible exception of Toronto, LAFC won the summer transfer window with the additions of Gareth Bale, Giorgio Chiellini and designated player Denis Bouanga, who was signed Aug. 5 just before the MLS deadline. Windows in other parts of the world are still open for a bit longer, though, and this week LAFC sent a pair of players to foreign clubs.

The first was Uruguayan striker Brian Rodríguez, who on Wednesday was shipped to Liga MX powerhouse Club América. Rodriguez never really found his feet in Southern California after arriving in 2019. He scored just eight times in 55 games and spent all of 2021 on loan to Almería of Spain's second division, where he failed to find the net in 16 appearances

Then on Thursday, the club sent Cameroonian defender Mamadou Fall on loan to La Liga club Villarreal. LAFC didn't take long to make another addition, though. On Friday, the club announced the signing of 31-year-old Spanish winger Cristian Tello. There are now two former members of FC Barcelona's youth academy, La Masia, in Los Angeles.

3. Galaxy gets some help, too

Not to be outdone by their cross-city rival, the LA Galaxy on Wednesday inked three-time Uruguayan World Cup defender Martín Cáceres until the end of the season, with a club option for 2023.  The 35-year-old former Barcelona and Juventus man should shore up Greg Vanney’s porous backline. The Galaxy have conceded 37 goals in just 25 games, the most of any team in playoff position in the West.

4. Roldan’s World Cup hopes take a hit

Cristian Roldan has been a key member of the Seattle Sounders since arriving out of the University of Washington in 2015, helping the Rave Green to two MLS Cup titles and two second-place finishes over the last seven years.

But if the reining CONCACAF champs are to extend their run of consecutive MLS playoff appearances to 14 this fall, they’ll have to do it without the versatile midfielder, who underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a sports hernia.

Roldan is expected to miss at least six weeks of action, including the United States men’s national team’s final two World Cup tune-ups next month against Japan and Saudi Arabia, putting his participation in Qatar in doubt.

5. Grudge match in Ohio

FC Cincinnati overcame a 2W-5L-1T start to spend most of the summer above the playoff line in the East. But ties the last two weeks against Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls have FCC fighting for their postseason lives, which will add even more drama to Saturday’s "Hell is Real" derby against the surging Columbus Crew.

As a lower division team in 2017, Cincy famously beat the Crew to establish the rivalry and eventually ascend to MLS. But they’ve beaten Columbus just once in nine tries since joining the top flight. Columbus won the most recent meeting on July 17, with new star forward Cucho Hernández scoring the game-winner, and heads to Cincy riding a six match unbeaten run away from home.

Still, hosting the match should help FCC, which has only lost once to the Crew at TQL Stadium, in 2019.

One of the leading soccer journalists in North America, Doug McIntyre has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.


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