Orlando City was just five points shy of making the playoffs in 2015, which--for an expansion team--can be considered a pretty successful season. Though for a club that set its sights high with playoff expectations--team captain and super star Kaká even went as far on the team's media day to say the goal was an MLS Cup--finishing just below the red line in year one just isn't good enough.
There isn't much that needs to change for the Lions to be a playoff team in 2016. They mainly just need some breaks to go their way.
The club's biggest this problems this past season were, for the most part, totally out of its control, with injuries dominating the storylines each week and suspensions and international call-ups also adding their weight.
The club has made nine subtractions from its 2015 roster, so far -- cutting mostly dead weight -- with the two biggest losses being goalkeeper Tally Hall and midfielder Lewis Neal, who returned to the to club last Thursday as a veteran leader for Orlando City B and will also serve as a Youth Academy coach.
Apart from that, the club's core roster remains intact.
With just a month until the preseason begins, the Lions have 24 of 28 spots occupied, with some work still left to be done for Armando Carneiro and company.
Goalkeepers (3): Earl Edwards Jr., Joe Bendik, Mason Stajduhar
Following the trade for Joe Bendik, the team has three goalies on its roster, and there's even been reports out of Portugal in recent weeks linking the club to Benfica B goalkeeper Theirry Graça. Its likely Graça will play for OCB alongside Stajduhar, who was recently signed out of the academy to a Homegrown Player deal.
What's left to be done? I don't see the club adding another goalkeeper beyond Bendik at this point, unless its got something else planned that nobody expects. The team should be pretty set with Edwards Jr. and Bendik on the roster.
Who's starting? It'll be a battle in preseason between Edwards Jr. and Bendik, but I wouldn't bet the Lions are bringing in Bendik to be the starter unless he really earns it. The club thinks highly of Edwards Jr., and will probably give him every shot at winning the starting job, and I think it'll be him between the posts during the first game in March.
Defenders (10): Aurelien Collin, Brek Shea, Seb Hines, Luke Boden, David Mateos, Rafael Ramos, Kevin Alston, Tyler Turner, Tommy Redding, Conor Donovan
The Lions had one of the worst defenses in the league this past season, but a lot of that, I think, had to do with the constant rotation on the backline due to injuries and suspensions. The most important aspect of 2016 will be cohesion and consistency with the back four -- get that and this defense should be fine. Orlando City didn't cut any defenders from its 2015 roster, and made the first off-season addition a fullback, as Kevin Alston was picked up in the Re-Entry Draft last week from the New England Revolution.
What's left to be done? The Lions should be pretty set on defense. Like I said, they didn't lose anybody and will be bringing back the entire core. It's always possible that they could shed Mateos' salary and bring in a higher quality defender to pair with Aurelien Collin, but for now I see things staying as is.
Who's starting? Expect to see Donovan and Redding spend most of the season in USL with OCB. Tyler Turner might also be primed for Melbourne with four other fullbacks currently ahead of him. Hines and Mateos will battle it out to see who starts alongside Collin at center back, and Shea shouldn't have anything stopping him from being the starting left back. Rafael Ramos, though, might have to fend off Alston for the starting job at right back.
Midfielders (9): Kaká, Kevin Molino, Carlos Rivas, Darwin Cerén, Cristian Higuita, Adrian Winter, Servando Carrasco, Harrison Heath, Estrela
The biggest area of loss on the roster was the midfield, where three players from last year's team will not be returning -- Eric Avila, Tony Cascio and Lewis Neal. Kevin Molino should return from ACL surgery before the start of the season, and that'll let Shea slide to left back, where he was arguably more effective pre-Molino injury.
What's left to be done? The Lions need to find a true attacking midfielder to put depth behind Kaká. They didn't have that in 2015, and what they did have--Lewis Neal--is gone. On the wings, I think they're just fine with Rivas, Molino, Winter, and even Shea. The defensive midfield is in good hands with Cerén and Higuita, one of the best young defensive midfielders in the league. Harrison Heath and Estrela should be with OCB all season, meaning the team could be better off adding at least one more defensive midfielder just in case -- Cerén will do his thing with El Salvador from time-to-time, and Higuita could start seeing more time with Colombia's national team.
Who's starting? Well, obviously Kaká has the central attacking role locked down. Rivas and Molino, if healthy, should occupy both outside spots. Cerén and Higuita, as I mentioned, will have things taken care of in the defensive midfield. Harrison Heath and Estrela are primed for OCB, clearing those roster spots. Winter makes for a good super-sub off the bench.
Forwards (3): Cyle Larin, Bryan Rochez, Pedro Ribeiro
Larin blew away all expectations in 2015, scoring a team-high 17 goals during his rookie campaign, which was also tied for fifth in the league. Rochez struggled with fitness issues and lost his passport, which meant the young Designated Player didn't see much time on the field until the end of the season, scoring three goals in his final five games.
What's left to be done? The Lions definitely need to add at least one, maybe two veteran forwards before they get to the preseason. Larin and Rochez are good, young talents, but we saw far too much in 2015 how their lack of experience could derail them at times, especially as Larin tailed off during the summer.
Who's starting? There's no doubt that Larin will enter the season as the starting forward. The Rookie of the Year will look to avoid that infamous sophomore slump, so he'll hope to come out of the gates strong in the preseason.
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How do you see the Lions' roster shaping up? What moves do you see the team still needing to make? Comment below!