The date is Jan. 9, 2015, and it is exactly 57 days until Orlando City SC's first match in Major League Soccer.
Given that, just how concerned should we be that the majority of the players on the roster have never trained or played together? Honestly? Very.
I've said this before, and I'll say it again: soccer is a game of intuition. There are no routes to run, few plays to call, and no timeouts to discuss strategy. Practice is as much about learning to understand and predict the movements of the other ten men on the pitch as it is skills and fundamentals.
Sure, Orlando is at a huge advantage over other expansion teams in that a significant portion of our roster has already played together in USL Pro. Still, at this point it looks like that will only be three or four starters on a weekly basis. So, with a majority of our starters having only two months to practice together prior to the beginning of the regular season, what should the practices focus on in those months?
1. Movement Off the Ball in the Attacking Third:
There's no huge secret about how Orlando will attack opposing defenses in 2015. You don't pay a man $7 million for him to stand around and watch. Kaka will will spend quite a bit of time on the ball in the attacking midfield role in Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation. It will be up to the two wingers and the center forward to make themselves available for the Brazilian.
Primarily, those roles will fall to Brek Shea, Kevin Molino, and newly signed Honduran DP Bryan Rochez. Over the next two months, every practice should involve an opportunity for Kaka to develop an understanding of how these three players move.
The best teams always have a sense of when a man is driving to the near or far post, or when he wants the wide ball versus cutting behind the defense. It will largely be Kaka playing those balls, and this should be the central focus of the attacking players over the next two months.
2. Center Back Communication
Will it be Aurelien Collin and newly signed Brazilian Gustavo? Does Heath Pearce have another year or two left in his legs? Will youngster Tommy Redding step up alongside Collin? Whatever the pairing, communication between center backs is absolutely essential to the success of a soccer team.
One of the primary responsibilities of the CBs is holding the defensive line and catching attackers in offside positions. Matt Besler of Sporting KC has made himself a household name and USMNT regular by being an excellent communicator and bringing out the best in whoever he is paired with. Eastern conference strikers like Bradley Wright-Phillips will pounce on the slightest moment of uncertainty between CBs.
3. Overlapping Fullback Runs
Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation lends itself to the kind of overlapping fullback runs that have been en vogue in MLS and EPL of late (think DeAndre Yedlin or Robbie Rogers). With two holding/defensive midfielders rarely venturing into the attacking third, it becomes essential to have fullbacks capable of providing offense as well as defense.
However, this is easier said than done. It requires an understanding between the midfielders and the fullback. For example, if the fullback is charging forward to get involved in attack, it is essential that the midfielder does not give the ball away at that moment. Obviously, with the defender out of position, the team could be faced with a dangerous counterattack with a speedy winger bearing down on a unprotected center back.
It's worth noting that, as of now, USL Pro veterans Tyler Turner and Kevin Molino are the likely starters on the right side of the pitch. Molino hasn't played much on the right side previously, but even still, his familiarity with Turner as a player could give them a huge head start on building confidence in each other. On the left, Brek Shea and Luke Boden may have a longer road ahead of them.
It's also worth noting that the understanding between a keeper and his defenders can be absolutely essential. However, I'm hoping the veteran experience of both Donovan Ricketts and Tally Hall should help expedite that process.
This is where my head would be if I were Adrian Heath over the next couple of months. What else do you think Heath should be focused on?