Orlando City is well aware of what’s at stake heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Columbus Crew.
A victory will seal the Lions’ appearance in the postseason for the third consecutive year — a draw positions Orlando to fall short on the unlikely scenario that D.C. United defeats FC Cincinnati that same day.
A loss means Orlando miss out for the first time since 2019.
Despite winning the U.S. Open Cup just over a month ago, Orlando City’s playoff aspirations hang in the balance this weekend and after speaking with reporters on Friday ahead of Sunday’s crucial game at Exploria Stadium, Head Coach Oscar Pareja sees no other option but to win to secure a return to the postseason.
“We’ve been in similar scenarios,” said Pareja. “We’ve been in these last three years of competing with Orlando playing in two finals and two playoffs where in those circumstances we’ve had to go out and win to survive. It’s a stressful situation but it’s part of our job. We don’t have another game, it’s just this game that we must win to continue in the playoffs. This group looks firm and combative and we hope we can perform well.”
[You can watch Orlando City vs. Columbus Crew on Sunday at 2:30 p.m. on FS1]
The Lions (13-14-6, 45 points) currently sit in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings and will look to either clinch the seventh or sixth-place spots that remain open. The Crew also face a similar scenario.
After a five-game winning streak navigated Orlando to an Open Cup triumphant, they went on to lose four of their last five games entering the final game of the regular season on Sunday.
“It’s normal that we all can make equations and try to find a fine answer on the response that we’ve had after our trophy,” said Pareja. “With the Open Cup, it’s normal to come up with conclusions and all of that is valid. What I can see is a team that after winning the Open Cup, two days after they needed to go to Philadelphia with no time to recover.”
The Lions lost 5-1 during that Sept. 10 match against the Union before losing 1-0 at home to Atlanta United on Sept. 14.
The Lions would rebound with a 4-0 win against Toronto on Sept. 17 before taking two weeks off to play two games in four days — a 2-1 loss to New York City FC on Oct. 2 and a 4-1 loss to Inter Miami on Oct. 5.
“It’s natural after that high moment a reaction could happen, but it’s difficult to analyze it that way, but we’re trying just to focus and concentrate because we need to win,” said Pareja.
“This group needs and deserves to be in the playoffs for all that they have achieved during the year but we have to validate that through winning against a good rival. If we don’t do it, we don’t deserve to be in it.”
Orlando City will be without its starting centerback duo on Sunday against the Crew.
Antonio Carlos will miss the match to serve a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, the team announced Robin Jansson will miss approximately 12-15 weeks after undergoing foot surgery to repair a stress fracture of the right navicular bone.
Jansson hasn’t appeared since Orlando’s 1-0 win against the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 13.
For Sunday, however, Pareja said it’s going to take a collective effort defensively to do the job.
“We have a difficulty in lack of personnel and another player will fill that position and they’re professional so we expect them to do it well. We’re going to reform ourselves a bit, our defensive line will be okay. We’re going to deploy players who can complement each other and through everyone on the defensive half our collective job.”
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