Focus on Top 4 as Lions Host NYCFC
Orlando City can go a long way towards securing a top 4 berth on Wednesday night, as the fourth-placed Lions host fifth-place NYCFC at Exploria Stadium.
In this season's expanded MLS Cup Playoff format, the top 6 teams in the Eastern Conference will avoid a play-in round to be contested by teams 7-10, while the top 4 will be guaranteed to host a quarterfinal game. Orlando City enter the game four points ahead of New York City with a game in hand.
"Qualifying in the first four would be great," said Orlando City head coach Oscar Pareja at his weekly press conference, while noting the team is still gunning for the Supporters' Shield. "Having the first game at home is incredibly important for us, but we're aiming for more. We're still in the fight for first place and we will do it until the end, but we all recognize the importance of being at the top. There are still seven games ongoing that we have to earn it, but the players are ready to keep fighting for that objective."
According to prognosticator FiveThirtyEight, Orlando City currently have an 81% chance to finish in the top 4 of the East and a 99% chance to finish in the top 6.
Wednesday could be a must-win for New York City's top 4 hopes after the Pigeons dropped a 2-1 result to New England at home on Sunday. NYCFC are without all three of their Designated Players due to injuries to Maxi Moralez and Heber and the loan of Alexandru Mitrita to Saudi club Al-Ahli.
"They have some challenges with injuries, as many others in the league, just moving players with versatility into different positions has been useful in the last couple games for them too," said Pareja. "I think the coach [Ronny Deila] has obviously much more time just to settle with the team. I always respect the model and always try to find some opportunities that we can use with our model and with our ways. I think it's going to be a very important and a very hard game for both and I hope that we can get the three points."
Orlando City and NYCFC have plenty of history together, going back to the clubs' inaugural game against each other in 2015. Their most recent meeting came at the MLS is Back Tournament in July, when Chris Mueller scored twice in the first ten minutes and Orlando took a 3-1 victory to clinch a spot in the knockout rounds.
The game is scheduled to kick off just after 7:30 pm. Pre-game coverage will begin at 7 pm on FOX35 Plus on television and on Real Radio 104.1 (English) and AcciÃ³n 97.9 FM (Spanish) on radio.
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