Disastrous loss to Inter Miami puts Orlando City on the brink
Orlando City, a preseason title contender and current US Open Cup champions, had been in the playoff places all season and pushing towards a home playoff game. The Lions faced their rivals, Inter Miami, in a de facto playoff game in Ft. Lauderdale.
Facing a Miami team without former MLS MVP Alejandro Pozuelo, Orlando City got bushwhacked by the Herons 4-1. Some of the underlying stats weren't quite as bad as the final score suggests, but the lack of effort and severe lack of focus defensively left the Lions vulnerable to their southern neighbors.
To say this was a disappointing effort from Orlando City is the understatement of the season. Orlando City was in playoff position all season long and in the biggest games of the year in the US Open Cup, Oscar Pareja's team delivered.
Against Miami, that drive and intensity was missing.
Inter Miami deserves plenty of credit for the performance and its season to date. Under second year manager Phil Neville and first year sporting director Chris Henderson, the Herons drastically rebuilt the roster and culture of a broken club.
Gonzalo Higuain, a global superstar setting off on his swan song, looked like a terrible signing for most of his MLS career, but a late resurgence at the end of his career is turning Miami into a supernova.
The Herons added Pozuelo effectively for free from Toronto FC, adding the dynamic playmaking midfielder the team needed since its inception. Add in surprising performances from Leo Campana, Robert Taylor and other key role players, and the Herons have a real team that could make noise in the postseason.
As for Orlando City, this is a team that's proven its merit on the biggest stage. The Lions battled their way to the club's first ever trophy in the US Open Cup and have become a perennial playoff challenger under Pareja.
Despite a record season from Uruguayan starlet Facundo Torres and the emergence of Cesar Araujo, Orlando hasn't been able to find consistency throughout the MLS regular season, and after a year of limping its way into the playoffs, faces an all or nothing game on Decision Day.