The Lions Put Up A Tough Fight But Bow Out Of The Playoffs With An Extra-Time Loss to Columbus.
What could have been, and maybe should have been, did not line last night before a sold-out Exploria Stadium. This was definitely the case with last night's playoff loss to Columbus, who has not had much luck against Orlando at Exploria Stadium. The tipping points were three-fold, as Orlando gave the ball away in the middle third too often, did not put away some very good chances, and had to deal with a shameful red card earned by defender Rodrigo Schlegel. Here are a few season-ending takes on last night's game, as well as some questions heading into the 2024 campaign:
There was a great response from Orlando after Schlegel's 77th-minute red card. Ball-winning, counter-attacks, and tactical substitutions by the Lions' manager Oscar Pareja came very close to Orlando winning the game in regular time. Martin Ojeda just missed the far post in the sixth minute of stoppage time after Columbus gave the ball away just outside of their eighteen. There were other goal-scoring opportunities from Facundo Torres, Ivan Angulo, and Ramiro Enrique, but on a night that should have been Orlando's, hard luck and a poor tactical foul provided Columbus a path to move on to the conference final.
The Orlando City player pool was overhauled in the last off-season to provide quality and depth. Those moves yielded great results for the Lions in a season that overall would be deemed successful, even with the sour taste left by last night's disappointing loss. There are sure to be many changes in this off-season as well, with a combination of players out of contract and possibly inquiries from teams in Europe, South America, and Mexico. One would think that the Lions will try to keep their 'spine' intact, led by goalkeeper Pedro Gallese, central defender Robin Jansson, and the midfield trio of Mauricio Pereyra, Wilder Cartagena, and Cesar Araujo. Questions with the midfield come into play as Pereyra will be thirty-four in March, and Cartagena twenty-nine. Questions will remain upfront though rookie Duncan McGuire was a great surprise, and youngsters Ramiro Enrique and Ivan Angulo show great promise. There is also the designated player situation, ever so important in the MLS.
The big question for the Wilf ownership group is manager Oscar Pareja. The manager's contract is up so will negotiations begin to resign the very experienced and successful manager, or will Pareja want to move on to a new challenge? My assessment and prediction is that Pareja will move on to another MLS club.
It has been a very long season. A season with some surprises and great wins. A season that had Orlando City as a top eastern conference side, with a team that at a baseline, puts in a great effort game-in, and game-out. The staff and the players should be proud of their accomplishments and use this off-season to make the very good, great. The Lions, with a bit of player pool shuffling, are not far away from being great.
Gary Levitt @gary1123 justmytake.net
Photo credit: Orlando Sentinel