The 2015 MLS off-season has been an eventful one for Orlando City. First, the team decided to part ways with starting goalkeeper Tally Hall. Then the hiring of a new chief soccer officer caused the departure of General Manager Paul McDonough. This past week, the team announced it would not be renewing the contract of assistant coach Ian Fuller.
The moves the club has made and the lack of explanation for those moves has caused dismay and panic among some of the club's fans. On Friday, a small contingent of fans decided to express their feelings in a protest near the club's offices. But, while the club may not have explained these decisions publicly, there are logical reasons for the decisions.
The decision not to pick up the option on Hall raised some eyebrows among most fans. The Lions acquired Hall through a trade with the Houston Dynamo during the 2014 MLS season. Following the trade, Hall tore his ACL on Aug. 29, 2014, which kept him out for the first part of the 2015 season. Hall returned on May 17 against the LA Galaxy and had a strong season following his return, but re-injured his knee in the second to last game of the season against NYCFC.
Hall's two knee injuries, both to the right knee and both requiring surgery, happened within an 18-month period. The 30-year-old goalkeeper's cap hit for the Lions was $215,000 in 2015, which the club decided was too much for an oft-injured goalkeeper who may never return to full health. The club also seems pleased with the progress of 23-year-old Earl Edwards Jr., who is likely to become the starter in 2016.
Another move that caused consternation among some fans was the hiring of Armando Carneiro, which led to the departure of McDonough. Carneiro joined the Lions from SL Benfica in Portugal, where he had previously been general director of the club's academy. The role of chief soccer officer meant that McDonough would report to Carneiro, seemingly giving him less power than before.
It was speculated that the hiring of Carneiro was solely the decision of majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva, but that's not necessarily the case. Ever since the Orlando City academy was founded in 2012, Phil Rawlins stated that he wanted to reach a point where seven players from the club's academy would be in the first team. That's a tall order for any professional team to accomplish. While McDonough undoubtedly did a good job as the club's general manager in building the team's inaugural MLS roster, Carneiro's experience running one of the world's top academies will help Rawlins achieve his goal.
The reason why Carneiro was given such a high position within the club was likely because a promotion was the only way to convince him to move to Florida to work for an American club that is only going into its sixth season overall and second in the country's top flight.
McDonough decided that the demotion was enough for him to make his exit and he did, promptly. On Dec. 16, McDonough was named the new director of soccer operations for Atlanta United, which will begin play in 2017. The Lions' front office likely knew the decision to bring in Carneiro would potentially mean the departure of McDonough, but decided the move was worth the risk, given what Carneiro brings to the club.
The final decision, which led to Friday's small protest, was the parting of ways with assistant coach Ian Fuller. Fuller had been with the club since its first season in 2011 -- first as a player/coach and then as a full-time assistant to Adrian Heath. He was one of the few people at the club that connected fans with the club's USL history.
The club hasn't revealed why Fuller wouldn't be returning but the decision was not as harsh as some fans seem to think. Fuller's contract had run out at the end of the 2015 season and the club decided not to renew it. The choice not to renew Fuller's contract is not the same as him being fired. Had his contract not expired, the idea of Fuller departing likely would never have even been considered. But, with his contract expiring, the club had to make a decision and ultimately chose to go in a different direction with that position.
In a release by the club regarding the move, the club stated that the decision was discussed with head coach Adrian Heath. Given that Heath had left the country and returned on Dec. 13, that is in all likelihood true, considering that news of the decision became public on Dec. 16.
It's still unknown why the decision not to renew Fuller's contract was made. It could be that the club would like another coach with more experience in MLS, as Heath has just one year under his belt. It could be that Fuller hasn't developed as a coach as much as the club would've hoped for. Whatever the reason, the decision seems clearly to have been consulted with Heath.
Some Orlando City fans have expressed their dismay at the direction the club seems to be heading in during this off-season. They expressed those feelings both on social media and with a small protest near the club offices. But those feelings are clearly misguided. Despite the club remaining quiet over this period, there are very logical reasons for each of the moves that have been made and none indicate any less input of Founder and President Phil Rawlins or Head Coach Adrian Heath.
It remains to be seen what impact these changes will have going forward, but there's no reason to think the club's upward trajectory will not continue.