Saturday will mark the Lions’ first postseason match in Club history after finishing out the regular-season at fourth in the Eastern Conference to earn the right to host Round One of the competition. They will face off against the very Club that they began their MLS tenure against in 2015 in expansion counterparts New York City FC, holding a 6-5-5 record against the Pigeons throughout their matchup history.
The Rookie Sensation
Forward Daryl Dike made his presence felt throughout the course of the regular season for the Lions, scoring eight goals while adding four assists in 17 matches played. The rookie out of Virginia finished out the year scoring in four-consecutive appearances to help clinch a home playoff game for the Lions, earning him a place as a finalist for the AT&T Young Player of the Year award. Dike’s eight goals this season puts him at second in Club history in goals scored by an MLS SuperDraft selection in their debut season behind only former Lion Cyle Larin, who found the back of the net 17 times in his 2015 Rookie of the Year campaign.
The Man at the Helm
Head Coach Oscar Pareja will begin play in his sixth postseason on Saturday afternoon, with four playoff runs with FC Dallas and a postseason berth with the Colorado Rapids on his resume. A finalist for the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year award, Pareja moved up the MLS All-Time Coaching Wins ranks this season, now owning sole possession of eighth on that list with 114 career victories in Major League Soccer.
The Money Man
Chris Mueller finished a breakout regular season for the Lions with 10 goals and seven assists to his credit to lead the side in goal contributions at 17. The 2018 MLS SuperDraft selection appeared in all but one of City’s fixtures this season, finishing out the year with 22 appearances and 17 starts. Mueller has found the back of the net in each of the Lions’ previous matchups against the Pigeons this season, including scoring the fastest brace in Club history in City’s 3-1 victory over NYCFC at the MLS is Back Tournament.
The Lions’ defense has continued its impressive performance down the stretch, shattering a Club-record and allowing just 1.09 goals per game this season. The backline conceded multiple times in a match on just three occasions throughout the year, registering five shutouts in all competitions. Eight different players have appeared across the back four for the Lions on the year, with center back Robin Jansson leading the way having played in all but one of City’s 23 fixtures, playing every minute of his 22 starts.
City’s No. 10 Mauricio Pereyra finished the season holding the team high in assists with eight, four of which came on game-winning goals for the Lions, including the game-winner against Columbus Crew SC to clinch a home playoff match for City. With Pereyra on the field this season, the Lions hold a record of 8-1-5, with a +13 goal differential in that span. The Uruguayan has also found the back of the net twice on the year, putting his total goal contributions at 10 in 16 matches played.
Luis Nani continued to impress in his second season in Orlando, finishing out the year with six goals and five assists to put him at third on the team in goal contributions behind only Chris Mueller and Daryl Dike. Two of his six finishes served as game-winners for the Lions on the year, tied with Benji Michel and Daryl Dike for second on the side. The Lions’ captain appeared in all but four matches for the team this season, earning a Best XI nod at the MLS is Back Tournament as well as an MVP nomination in the side’s run to the final.