We're now just nine days until Christmas and that jolly old elf up at the North Pole is making his final preparations for his biggest work night of the year. While you're busy guzzling egg nog or trying to get that special someone to walk under the mistletoe, Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath will be hoping that Santa can bring him all the things his team needs for the 2016 season.
Hopefully Heath is on Santa's "nice" list, because that could spell the difference between a successful second Major League Soccer campaign and a second straight year of missing the MLS playoffs. Here are some of the things on Heath's Christmas list this year...
1. A Veteran Goalkeeper
Although Earl Edwards Jr. may indeed be ready to step into the Lions' No. 1 goalkeeper role in 2016, he has yet to actually prove himself over the course of an MLS season. Edwards did manage to play well enough in practice, friendlies and U.S. Open Cup to make veteran Donovan Ricketts expendable last season, but that doesn't mean he can carry the weight of a No. 1 top flight keeper at the tender age of 24 (his 24th birthday is coming up on Jan. 24).
By adding a veteran keeper who would be OK with a backup role should Edwards fully seize this opportunity, Heath would have the peace of mind he needs if an injury should strike his second-year man out of UCLA. This should also be someone who could carry the team as a No. 1 if need be. A guy like Jon Busch would fit the bill, but other options are out there.
2. A Proven Top-Flight Striker
Cyle Larin had an amazing season for Orlando City in 2015. He destroyed the rookie goal-scoring mark and shook off the effects of a grinding season to finish strong down the stretch. Larin hasn't even touched on his considerable potential and Bryan Rochez came on late in the season to push him and provide a spark off the bench. So why does Orlando need another striker?
Several young goal scorers have had good first seasons in MLS only to disappear. One example of this is Danny Mwanga, who went from promising top pick to a guy who could barely get into the 18 for an expansion club decimated by injuries in just a few short years. An accomplished veteran striker who can provide coverage for Orlando's young players and perhaps be a super sub off the bench or a spot starter while Larin is on international duty would be a big boost for City's offense.
3. A Midfield Accomplice for Kaká
This is a role that could be occupied by a healthy Kevin Molino, but even so, an additional attacking midfielder who can help finish plays that the captain starts -- and who can provide service to Larin -- would make the Lions a more formidable offensive team. The Brazilian is consistently collapsed upon by opposing defenses and desperately needs someone to create more space for him. He also needs a player who understands how to interact with him and express himself in the attacking third (think: a faster, more lethal Pedro Ribeiro).
In addition, this player would ideally be able to play either on the wing or in the middle, to provide coverage for Kaká and/or Molino during international breaks, to give the captain more rest in 2016 during times when the fixture schedule is crowded, and to add depth to an attacking midfield that often lacked dynamic play in 2015.
4. A Viable Alternative at Right Back
Rafael Ramos has a ton of upside and for the first third of the season may have been one of the top right backs in MLS. However, the league eventually found ways to neutralize his pace and the effectiveness of his wide attacks. More than one opponent also learned that you can push Ramos' buttons, frustrate him, and take his mind off the game.
If Santa could deliver an additional fullback who could push Ramos, help him grow as a player, and effectively replace him during suspensions or in spot starts, Orlando City would be a much stronger team at the back in terms of depth. A player who can pressure Ramos into growing and taking the next step in his development would be a welcome addition, and could fill in seamlessly in case of injury, international recall or suspension. It would be a nice luxury that was missing in 2015.
What presents will be piled up underneath Heath's purple Christmas tree? Hopefully he's been good enough this year to receive all of the above, as well as some additional role players with MLS experience.
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What would you like to see under the Orlando City tree this year?