Three big names have circulated around the Orlando City SC and MLS transfer rumor circuit this off-season.
Eddie Johnson, Jozy Altidore, and Emmanuel Adebayor have all put clubs on alert in the past few months for different reasons. Johnson was available in the MLS Expansion Draft and numerous pundits thought Orlando City might take a chance on him. Altidore's name briefly flashed on the Orlando City rumor mill, while Adebayor's mention might have only been wishful thinking on the part of a number of dedicated fans.
There is a reason these three have hit the rumor mills and imaginations of the Orlando City faithful. That reason is Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite, better known as Kaká. In imagining the playing style and make-up of the club throughout the buildup to Orlando's inaugural season, one glaring question persists. Who will be on the other end of those beautiful passes from Kaká?
Getting to Know the Gaffer: Adrian Heath
Orlando City SC may have high profile names like Kaka and Brek Shea, but the club's biggest asset might just be the manager. Adrian Heath is the perfect fit to lead the Lions into MLS.
Multiply that. Who will be finishing those balls put into the box from a very impressive midfield consisting of the likes of Kaká, Brek Shea, Kevin Molino, and Darwin Ceren?
A target striker, the likes of Johnson, Altidore, and Adebayor, seems to make the most sense. The term 'target striker' refers to a player who usually strikes an imposing presence in the box. They use their stature to either finish passes sent into the box, or alternately, control the ball and create chances for attacking midfielders.
It's all pretty simple: you get the former World Player of the Year to put the ball into the box exactly where he wants it to be, and he either scores with ease or creates a chance for the talent laden midfielders that are now running like gangbusters into the box.
Well, it sounds easy enough. For whatever reason, Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath has had some challenges with striker production in the past. Those challenges seem compounded when the forwards are big imposing target strikers.
Over the past four seasons, Orlando City has had two successful target strikers. In 2011, Maxwell Griffith scored 10 times in 24 games. In 2012, the club found success behind nine goals in 18 games from Matt Luzunaris. Both Griffith and Luzunaris are listed at 6-foot-1, which is the bottom end of the imposing target striker range. Griffith transferred to MLS club San Jose Earthquakes and Luzunaris moved on to the Rochester Rhinos and has very recently retired.
Over the past four seasons in USL Pro, a number of strikers have languished in Heath's system. Players like Long Tan, Corey Hertzog, Devorn Jorsling, and Giuseppe Gentile have struggled to find both a place and goals in Heath's offense. At the same time, attacking midfielders such as Jamie Watson, Ian Fuller, Lewis Neal, and last year's USL Pro scoring champion, Kevin Molino, have driven the offense. The strikers who have thrived in Heath's offense have been small, compact, ball-handing playmakers such as Dom Dwyer and Denis Chin.
What kind of conclusions can we draw from these USL seasons? First, Heath doesn't care for target strikers. His tactics don't have room for the kind of player that waits around for opportunities to come to him.
Second, both Orlando City's midfield and the team's wing back defenders have been strong. The Lions will again bring offense from all over the field. The signing of Bryan Róchez means Heath again will look for the active ball-winning and playmaking striker over the specialist.
This signing, and not the signing of the aforementioned big target strikers, fits Heath's system, despite all of our dreams of Kaká perfectly floating balls in for a big man to head into the side netting.
While some offenses place a talented player in the center of the box and surround him with players that can create chances for him, Orlando's system will see the striker as part of a larger offensive setup. It has brought Heath success to this point and there is no reason to doubt it won't continue.
Any striker keen on finding consistent playing time under Heath should spend some time on the practice field, working on their short, playmaking passes and ball-winning tackles.