Orlando City SC spent their first five years in MLS merely trying to reach the playoffs.
Now that they are finally there, first-year coach Oscar Pareja said he believes they have the mettle to make a deep run. The Lions look to take the first step on Saturday afternoon in their first-round match against New York City FC in Orlando.
While Orlando finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, Pareja pointed to the club's four regular-season losses -- tied with Philadelphia for the fewest in the league -- as a sign that his team will be a difficult foe for any postseason opponent.
"We have been a team that is very tough to play against. We have great numbers about being the team that has lost the least games in the season," Pareja said. "That shows that we can be a team that is tough, that is strong, that has a tough mentality in every single game, playing at home or playing away."
Of course, the reason why the Lions didn't finish as high as Philly is they recorded eight draws instead of additional victories. Orlando City had won three in row prior to a Decision Day defeat against Nashville SC.
Emerging rookie Daryl Dike scored in three of his past four games to bring his season total to eight, giving the Lions another offensive weapon alongside more established talents in Nani and Chris Mueller.
New York has seen its own late-season striker surge from Valentin Castellanos, who has four goals and two assists in the team's past two matches -- both high-scoring NYCFC wins. Those victories helped guide the club to a fifth-place finish and avoid a potential play-in round game.
The visitors also have plenty of experience playing in the Orlando area this season, though with little success. In the MLS is Back Tournament played at ESPN's Wide World of Sports in July, Orlando posted a 3-1 win over NYCFC. The teams then tied 1-1 during a regular-season meeting at Orlando in October.
"I think it's one of the toughest teams," NYCFC first-year coach Ronny Deila said. "I think it's a really good team. So I think, who you play doesn't matter in my opinion, almost. We have played all of them, and it has been tight with all of the teams in front of us."
--Field Level Media