Orlando City off to fine but underwhelming start to season

Apr 15, 2023; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Orlando City SC forward Duncan McGuire (13) celebrates his
Apr 15, 2023; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Orlando City SC forward Duncan McGuire (13) celebrates his / Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Orlando City sits in 13th place in Major League Soccer's Supporters' Shield table and seventh in the Eastern Conference. The Lions are comfortably jostling for early playoff position but far from the crop of the league. As April winds to a close and the dog days of summer loom closer, Orlando sits in an underwhelming place.

This was a season of real expectations for Orlando City. The Lions --- under the ownership of the Wilf family --- spent real cash to invest in the squad and seemed to set up a squad capable of contending amongst the best in MLS.

Over the last three transfer windows, Orlando signed three Designated Players --- including the two most expensive transfers in club history --- three U22 signings and a handful of other players across the roster.

The club won a trophy last season and clinched a place in the Concacaf Champions League for the first time. Things were set up for head coach Oscar Pareja to compete for silverware with this team.

Seven games into the MLS season, it certainly doesn't look like Orlando will be reaching those heights. The Lions are middle of the table and some of the underlying stats are even worse.

Orlando ranks in the bottom ten for expected goals and shots on target per 90 minutes according to FBRef. Those stats back up the eye test, as well. The Lions' attack has looked disjointed and lacking consistent punch through the first seven games in league play.

Goals and consistent chance creation was a big problem for Orlando last season as well. The Lions were bottom-five in expected and actual goals in 2022, and that hasn't really changed early on this year.

Another troubling trend from 2022 that's carried over is the home form. Orlando lost eight times at Exploria Stadium last season, and the Lions have already dropped a pair of games at home this year. Through two months of action, not much has changed from last season.

But this isn't to say that all hope is lost for Orlando to compete this season.

The Lions faced a unique challenge to start this season: Champions League. CCL will always take a toll on a team in the first few weeks of the year, even if the team fails to advance past the first round. Orlando played a classic two-leg series against Tigres, and even though the Lions fell short, it was an intense battle that sucked the oxygen of the early season.

That test showed what Orlando could be at its best. The team showed grit, intensity and enough high-level difference makers to challenge in high-leverage, single-elimination games. That's the same DNA that helped the Lions lift the US Open Cup last season.

The optimistic view is that Orlando will take those experiences against Tigres and parlay them into success down the stretch this season. There's also hope that the pieces on the field will finally start to mesh together, especially in the final third.

Martín Ojeda, Gastón González, Duncan McGuire and Dagur Dan Thórhallsson are all key attacking pieces who made their Orlando City debut this season. There's been a lot of shifting of lineups and tactics while Pareja finds a way to make the pieces work together.

The lack of chemistry, especially between Ojeda and fellow DP Facundo Torres, is a clear problem holding the attack back, but there are signs of potential growth down the line.

Throughout all of these offensive issues, the defense --- and especially goalkeeper Pedro Gallese --- has held firm and given Orlando room to grow into its style of play. Back to the heart of this story, Orlando's not in a bad place right now less than a third of the way through the season.

The Lions haven't had the hot start they would've wanted after a strong offseason. But there's been glimpses of greatness and hints of excellence hiding beneath the surface. After a 2-0 win over Minnesota United, Orlando may be turning the corner for a big summer.