Preview of MLS Cup playoffs: Orlando City

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For the second year in a row, Orlando City has reached the MLS Cup playoffs.

After missing out after the season and disappearing near the bottom of the East during his first five years in Major League Soccer, the Lions have become a powerful force under Oscar Pareja.

Here’s everything you need to know about Orlando City ahead of the off – season – from tactics to key players and their chances of winning the grand prize.

Orlando stormed east at the start of the season, losing just one of their first 10 games. But from that point on, there was total inconsistency, and a losing streak of four games in September put them at risk of missing the playoffs altogether.

Eventually, they were re-stabilized and a hard-fought 2-0 Decision Day win over CF Montreal led to their draw. But Orlando has been far from convincing lately – can they get it together in the playoffs?

Pareja has turned Orlando’s luck. / Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

In his 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1 hybrids, Oscar Pareja does a lot to make Orlando hard to break down. Do not be fooled by their 48 goals conceded in the regular season – that statistic is a bit skewed by allowing five against the NYCFC and four against Montreal, and their xA is actually a healthy 42.1, the fifth best in the East. They are ranked okay at zero as well, with nine.

This is how they will approach things in the playoffs as well, with a double pivot by Junior Urso and Jhegson Mendez that protects the midfielders and gives Ruan and Emmanuel Mas the freedom to give breadth in the attack. Chris Mueller, Nani and Benji Michel all like to hide indoors and work centrally, where they create space for Mauricio Pereyra and combine with Daryl Dike.

Can the supporting roles both provide enough service to help Dike, and complement his goal themselves? And will Nani wake up just in time for the playoffs? The ethos in Orlando is good, but there are question marks.

Nani: As he often does, Nani started the season at MVP level, with nine goals and six assists during his first 15 games. Then, characteristically enough, he fell off a cliff, with just one goal and an assist in his 13 games since then. Even at the age of 34, Nani still has magic in his boots, and he obviously cares deeply about Orlando’s cause. But he must either start to keep in shape for an entire season, or save himself for the final sprint. Or maybe that’s what this spell has been? The answer to that question is crucial to the Lions playoffs.

Daryl Dike: His loan to Barnsley and some annoying injuries meant that Daryl Dike did not come close in the MLS Golden Boot race. But he has been one of the deadliest strikers in the league with the time he has had, with a rate of 0.7 goals per 90 minutes – only four players in MLS boast a better pace. In just 1,325 minutes, Dike scored 10 goals to finish the regular season as Orlando’s top scorer along with Nani. And goals aside, his passing play and ability to run down a back line with the ball at his feet are important weapons for an Orlando team that can sometimes seem lacking in ideas.

Pedro Gallese: Pedro Gallese has outperformed his xA by 1.43 this season, which basically means that he has prevented just under one and a half goals that he would reasonably be expected to concede. With his own high standards, it represents a pretty bad season – for the context, Andre Blake and Matt Turner are the league’s leaders in this measured value with 7.71 and 7.30 respectively. Despite that, Gallese can still be considered the best goalie in MLS thanks to his cat-like reflexes and shooting stops. He must stand tall when he is called up after the season.

Can Orlando City go all the way? Matthew Burt

It would have been a shock if Orlando did not make it to the playoffs given their talent and form at the start of the season. But now that they’re here, it’s hard to see them advancing.

Their Round One opponent, Nashville, is undefeated at home and is ruthless at both ends of the field. Orlando can not claim it defensively or offensively.

As mentioned, it all depends on the ability of Nani, Mueller, Michel and co to support Dike.

Prediction: Round one

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