Orlando City's victory over Toronto on Saturday delivered three important points in the standing as well as plenty of reason for optimism. As the team takes a step closer to securing a playoff spot, it also shows the effectiveness of its assault just when it needed the reminder.
After winning the US Open Cup, the Lions had suffered a brutal beating by Philadelphia and a discouraging home loss to rivals Atlanta United. Neither defeat harmed them much in the playoff standings, but it looked like they might be skidding into the international break. Instead, they dropped
four goals on Toronto, pointing themselves in the right direction just in time for the week off and the final push.
On the field, the team provided plenty of attacking options. Even considering Toronto's defensive woes this year, the Lions looked flexible and assertive. The first goal came from a bit of sneaky creativity, with Antonio Carlos' slick pass setting up Facundo Torres for what he does best. The team followed that score with a fast counterattack – an essential part of the team's style – as Mauricio Pereyra found Ercan Kara.
The scoring continued with an own goal, but even that pointed to the value of the persistent attack and the effectiveness of João Moutinho's high position and dangerous crosses. The team closed the scoring with a more traditional goal, as Tesho Akindele slipped behind the line. Iván Angulo deserves some extra credit for his assist, as his work rate remained high throughout the night.
As Orlando enters the break, it will have the momentum of the win as well as the time for César Araújo
to recover from his non-COVID illness --- though Wilder Cartagena has filled in ably. The team should be fresh, encouraged, and ready for the final three games.
None of that would matter, though, if the points weren't there in the standings. With a win this past
weekend, Orlando puts itself three important points above the playoff line. The Lions will simultaneously look to move into fourth place and lock in a home game --- which might not be to their benefit the way this season as gone --- and fend off the teams close behind them.
Thanks to a scheduling quirk, Orlando will have to play three teams in the mix: NYCFC, Inter Miami, and Columbus. Although much of the drama right now centers on the rematch with New York after their thrilling last game, it might be the other two games that carry that most weight. Many possibilities could play out over the final week of the season, but if Orlando could beat either Miami or Columbus, they would find themselves with a six-point lead and a nearly insurmountable tiebreaker over that team. A draw at any point would give them enough separation from Atlanta (who only has two games remaining).
The first weekend of October might provide enough clarity that the Lions could breathe easy, but it
looks likely that the playoff picture will shuffle around until Decision Day. Given the complicated picture, getting these three points against Toronto gives Orlando some margin of error. With a better position in the playoff race and a team with plenty to build on, Orlando couldn't have found itself in a much better spot at the break, even if the big test lies ahead.