Every couple days this month, I've found myself stopping for a moment to take stock of Orlando City's current roster. You have to. We began December with too few players signed to even field an 11-man team, and we will end the month with at least 22 under contract.
The realization I came to today is that there's a common thread between many of the players: These are men with something to prove.
That's something they share with the team itself for obvious reason. Any expansion team will feel the need to prove that it belongs in Major League Soccer. However, the feeling might be even stronger for Orlando, having come up from a lower division.
Could this be strategy from Adrian Heath? Is he lining up a roster that will buy into the us-against-the-world mentality of a plucky USL Pro team entering MLS? Let's take a look at a few of the player who have the most to prove in 2015:
Kaka: He can't cut it with the Brazilian National Team anymore. He's too old for AC Milan. He's in the United States to retire.Take your pick. Ricardo Kaka will easily be the most accomplished Lion on the pitch each weekend, but he may also still have the most to prove. He's said all the right things so far in the press, but has he really taken it to heart? We won't be able to say for sure until a few weeks into the season. I will say that I believe Orlando City's success this season hinges on Kaka playing like a man who still has something left to prove each and every week.
Kevin Molino: He was the star of the JV team, but it's time to move up to varsity. Do you think for one second that Molino doesn't know that he has a 49 rating on FIFA? The man who set the all-time USL Pro goal-scoring record just two months ago is one of the lowest rated players in the entirety of the world's most popular soccer game. I would venture to say that many of the opposing players respect him, but there's not a non-Orlando MLS fan out there who thinks Molino has a shot of sniffing the All-Star Game.
Lewis Neal: The MLS Expansion Draft has to sting. To become expendable to Ben Olsen's United squad has to be a low point for a player with the experience of Neal. Consider this valid for almost any of the seven players on the roster from the Expansion Draft. Neal will have at least two chances in 2015 to show D.C. that they made a mistake.
Amobi Okugo: Will the national team call-up ever come for Orlando's new defensive midfielder? Okugo was pegged for greatness in the American soccer system long before he was selected by Philadelphia as an 18-year-old five years ago. He's a solid pro for sure, but is that as high as the ceiling goes? 2015 could be the year he makes his first MLS All-Star Game, and perhaps he could even earn his first USMNT cap in July's Gold Cup.
Brek Shea: He failed in Europe. Stoke City paid millions to bring him to England's Premier League as a young player, and he accomplished next to nothing in 18 months. Everyone knows the story. Will this be a year of redemption for the Texan?
Danny Mwanga: Mwanga was the first overall pick in the 2010 SuperDraft, and was a finalist for MLS Rookie of the Year. Since then? Not much, on top of not much, capped off with a loan to NASL in 2014. Is there time for the 23-year-old to resurrect his career in Orlando?
This was a quick list of those who seemingly have the most to prove, but the same could be said for almost all of Orlando's roster. Everyone who came up from USL Pro has the "lower division" chip on their shoulders. Everyone who came on board in the Expansion Draft has the knowledge that they weren't deemed valuable enough to protect.
Guys like Luke Boden, Darwin Ceren, and Tyler Turner have spent the last months wondering whether the coaches might target a more experienced MLS veteran to replace them in the starting 11.
This season, it will be up to Coach Heath to focus that attitude onto the team. If he can successfully motivate 11 individuals with something to prove to have that same attitude collectively, City will indeed prove just how formidable they can be.