Orlando City's opening campaign in Major League Soccer is coming to a close, and sorry to sound like the glass-half-empty kind of guy, but it's likely going to end with the club on the outside looking in on the Eastern Conference playoffs.
With two games left, the Lions trail Montreal by four points. A loss in either of their next two games would eliminate the club, while the only thing that could get them in is winning out the next two games and hoping Montreal doesn't capture more than a point in its final two remaining games.
The season's not over, but that doesn't mean we can't start looking ahead at 2016. I mean, why not? It promises to be an exciting year with the new stadium (eventually), USL team, and NWSL team all joining the Orlando soccer scene next year.
As for Orlando City, we're looking forward to 2016 by taking a peek at three players we should be watching for next season.
Molino only played in eight games for Orlando City, coming off of his second USL MVP award in four seasons, and having scored 20 goals for the Lions in 2014. The Trinidadian was supposed to have a big year in MLS after making the transition with the club. He showed some some obvious glimpses of talent, linking up with Kaká very well early on before suffering a season-ending ACL injury in a May 8 friendly against Ponte Preta. Molino still has a lot to prove in MLS, but if he can come into next season healthy and a little bit bigger after some time in the gym, he should be a dangerous addition for Orlando City in 2016.
2016 is going to be a big year for Cristian Higuita. The question is not how well he plays for the team next season, but whether or not he even finishes out next season in Orlando. Before signing with the Lions this past winter, Higuita was drawing serious interest from a number of big-time European clubs, including teams such as Inter Milan. A knee injury cooled a lot of heat on him, which let Orlando City swoop in a take the risk, and what a rewarding risk that turned out to be. Higuita has arguably been Orlando City's top player this season alongside Cyle Larin, and if he takes his current form with him into 2016 there will surely be offers coming in from all angles next summer.
Yeah, you should probably be keeping an eye on Brek Shea next year. His transition to left back has been pretty comfortable this season, but his lack of production for the Lions has been the biggest concern. Shea has missed 14 games this season for Orlando City -- Friday's game against New York City FC will be No. 15 -- due to injuries, suspensions, and international call-ups, and prior to his return from groin surgery, he was almost invisible for the Lions, picking up just one assist and no goals through his first 12 games. Since his return, he's recorded three assists in four games -- two of those coming off the bench. So if this Brek Shea, who is playing much better than early-season Brek, shows up in 2016, Orlando City will be looking pretty heading into the regular season.
* * *
That's my three to watch. What do you think? Comment below!