The start of the 2019 Major League Soccer season is just days away, with Orlando City preparing to open its fifth campaign since joining the league in 2015.
The Lions haven’t seen much success in MLS, missing the playoffs in each of their first four seasons — being the only team in the Eastern Conference outside of newcomers FC Cincinnati to not make the playoffs ever — coming as close as a 7th place finish in 2015, just five points below 6th place.
Since then, they’ve only fallen further and further from the red line, culminating in 2018’s last place finish in the East, the Lions’ worst campaign yet.
So it’s time to embark on a new season, and with that, a new schedule to weave in and out of, with another newcomer entering the league, and a new playoff format for the league in 2019.
With that, let’s take a deeper dive into Orlando City’s 2019 schedule and see what the Lions have ahead of them this season.
There are a few new changes to the league schedule this year as I alluded to above, if you haven’t already been caught up on them. First, as I mentioned, a new playoff format.
With the league pushing up to 24 teams this season with the addition of Cincinnati, MLS has expanded the playoff field to 14 teams — seven from each conference — and made the playoffs a single-elimination tournament.
This season, teams will face their in-conference foes twice (home and away), and out of conference teams just once, like in previous seasons, except eliminating the need for teams to play certain teams three times in a season, which created an unfair balance in the schedule — for example, Orlando City might have had to play teams like Atlanta United and Columbus Crew three times, but everybody else just twice.
While the start of the season remained where it usually sits, the end of the season moved up drastically, about three weeks, with Decision Day now on Oct. 6, which will accommodate the playoffs ending about a month earlier in the first week of November.
MLS will also be taking a one week break from June 14-21 during the opening week of the CONCACAF Gold Cup. And if you’re wondering about the MLS All-Star Game, it’ll be held on July 31, right here in Orlando.
If there’s anything that jumps out at you right away about the schedule, it might be that there really aren’t any true home stands this season.
At no point are the Lions home for more than two consecutive games and at no point do they play more than three consecutive games (which they only do once) on the road. While there are pros and cons to both sides of that — such as more frequent plane trips but also a more balanced schedule to work around — it means less stretches of not having a home game for three or four weeks, which works out for everybody involved.
The Lions start their season at home against New York City FC on March 2, as you know. The following week, they’ll travel to Seat Geek Stadium to take on the Chicago Fire, from there they finish off the month against the Montreal Impact (home, March 16), New York Red Bulls (away, March 23), and D.C. United (home, March 31).
If the Lions are to have any success this season, they’ll need to get off to a good start, which will be a challenge right out of the gate, with eight of their first 12 games against teams that made the playoffs last season, including two against NYCFC, and away matches to Atlanta United and Seattle Sounders (back-to-back, May 12 and May 15, that might be the single-toughest stretch on the schedule having to fly from Atlanta all the way to Seattle to play three days later).
June can be an important month for better or worse depending on the state of the team at that point, as the Lions will play at Montreal on June 1 before taking the next several weeks off for the Gold Cup and eventually returning on June 26 at D.C. to start a stretch of four games in 11 days, going through D.C. and Columbus, coming home to face the Philadelphia Union, then heading back to Philly three days later to face the Union again.
The Lions only have a few midweek games this season, one of them on July 18 when they travel out to Portland to take on the Timbers, three days before the meet the Red Bulls back in Orlando on July 21, another short stretch that could hurt the Lions with a lot of travel and very little rest time in between.
Home games against FC Dallas, Sporting KC, and Atlanta highlight the schedule in August, all opportunities to win points at home against three of the league’s top tier teams, with a trip to Minnesota United and their new stadium thrown in on August 17.
Three of Orlando’s last five games will be at home, a helpful run down the final stretch of the year, including Oct. 6 at home against Chicago. If the Lions find themselves in a dogfight for a playoff spot, that final stretch could be a big help to them.
Games to Watch
March 2 vs. NYCFC, 2:30 p.m. ET
March 31 vs. D.C. United (Wayne Rooney vs. Nani) 6:30 p.m. ET
May 4 vs. Toronto FC , 4 p.m. ET
May 12 at Atlanta United, 2 p.m. ET
May 19 vs. FC Cincinnati, 5 p.m.
May 24 vs. LA Galaxy (Zlatan’s first trip to Orlando) 7 p.m. ET
Aug. 17 at Minnesota United (first trip to the new Allianz Field) 8 p.m. ET
Aug. 23 vs. Atlanta United, 9 p.m. ET
Sept. 7 vs. Los Angeles FC, 7:30 pm. ET
Sept. 29 at FC Cincinnati, 5 p.m.
Oct. 6 vs. Chicago Fire (Decision Day) 4 p.m. ET
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