Two teams in dire need of three points to enhance their playoff hopes collide Wednesday night when Orlando City SC hosts Sporting Kansas City.
The Lions (8-6-11) are ninth in the Eastern Conference, trailing Toronto FC on wins and three points behind Montreal for the seventh and final playoff spot. While Orlando City is 1-2-2 in its last five matches, it has claimed four points in the last two contests after playing Toronto to a 1-1 draw on the road Saturday.
Substitute Benji Michel scored on his second touch of the game in the 69th minute to provide the Lions a lead, but eight minutes later they conceded off a free kick following a VAR review that determined Michel did not commit the foul in the penalty area.
“I’m very proud of the level of performance,” coach James O’Connor told the team’s Twitter account. “On another night, we might have been able to nick all three, but great credit to the guys, I thought we had some outstanding performances.”
Despite holding out for the point, offense continues to be a concern for Orlando City, which finished with just two shots on target. It was the seventh time in 10 matches it had three or fewer shots on goal, and 13 of the Lions’ 18 goals at home have come clustered in four matches. Orlando City is 5-1-6 at home, a key reason it is below the playoff line with nine games remaining.
Nani’s goalless drought reached eight games, and the former Portugal international has been stuck on eight goals since scoring against Montreal on June 1. He has totaled two assists in his last six contests, with fatigue a concern for the 32-year-old playmaker in his first MLS season.
Sporting Kansas City (7-7-10) has a more difficult path to the playoffs in the Western Conference as it enters this contest eight points out of seventh and in 10th. Sporting have dropped three of their last four matches after a 2-1 home loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday in a six-point belter.
Johnny Russell staked Kansas City to a 1-0 lead just after the half-hour with a rasping free kick from just outside the penalty area, but a set piece led to SKC conceding an equalizer seven minutes later. A defensive breakdown led to the go-ahead goal in the 70th minute, when an unmarked Corey Baird completed his brace by going across goal from close range.
“We’re going to have to win seven or eight of these games, if we’re being realistic, if we want to get in,” Russell said when assessing Sporting’s postseason chances. “Obviously, you want to win all of them but we know it’s going to be difficult. … We keep saying it, but time is running out for us. We need to start winning games.
“We’ve got 10 massive games coming up with a quick turnaround for Wednesday. We need to get ourselves ready and put this behind us and learn from the mistakes that were made then go and win the game.”
Sporting have alternated wins and losses in their last five road matches after claiming four points via draws in the first seven. They have taken one point from their two previous trips to Orlando and recorded a 2-2 draw in 2017. Kansas City won last year’s lone matchup 1-0 on a goal by Felipe Gutierrez in the 53rd minute.
(Johnny Russell photo courtesy Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports)