For what seems like a fairly standard off-season for a Major League Soccer team, some of Orlando City's fans seem to be taking umbrage at some of the things the Lions are doing as they prepare for 2016. Although a move or two may have been worthy of a slightly raised eyebrow, nothing done to date seems worth getting riled up over.
In the spirit of the holiday season, I thought it was time to put myself in the shoes of the team's "Scrooges." Do their concerns have merit? Certainly it's OK to be concerned about your favorite team's business dealings if you believe they are moving in the wrong direction. Is Orlando City doing this? Let's address the questions fans have posed.
Is the team handling its dealings in a less transparent manner than in years past?
Looking back through old stories, it's hard to see any real pattern of explanatory behavior from Orlando City in making player moves. Any explanation has been fairly standard boiler plate-type stuff. And why not? In today's litigious climate, you can't really badmouth former employees without risking a lawsuit. The safe PR move is to simply say you're going in a new direction and move on. I haven't seen any real evidence that the team is handling its business significantly differently than in years past.
Then again, perhaps Phil Rawlins and others have been more forthcoming with the supporters groups in the past than they have been this year. That's certainly a possibility, but since I'm not involved in Ruckus or Iron Lion Firm leadership, I have no basis of reference. That said, if the club is less forthcoming than before, it probably speaks more to the difference between being an MLS team rather than a USL team more than any real effort to deceive or mislead fans. A major league team cannot operate the same way as a minor league team if it wants to keep a competitive advantage.
Was the decision not to renew assistant coach Ian Fuller's contract made by Armando Carneiro or Flavio Augusto da Silva and out of Adrian Heath's control?
While it's possible, it makes little sense that Heath wasn't involved in this decision. Why would a new GM (or "Chief Soccer Officer") or an owner handcuff his coach? A new GM or team owner will typically replace the head coach and put their own guy in charge. It behooves both the GM and the team owner to run a successful team and win games. This is the big reason so many new GMs get rid of the guy who wasn't their choice and pick a new coach. If they stick with the old coach, it makes no sense to eliminate someone who has been helpful to him.
I'm not saying it couldn't have happened; just that it doesn't make sense. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Fuller's contract was up. This was an opportunity to upgrade the coaching staff. Heath has had a year to evaluate what Fuller brings to his MLS team. It may simply be an effort to add a coach with more experience.
Adrian Heath is a smart and involved head coach. It's impossible for me to believe he had no say whatsoever in Fuller's departure. He strikes me as the kind of guy who would rather leave himself than not have the final say over his staff.
Isn't Joe Bendik a downgrade at goalkeeper from Tally Hall?
Perhaps, but it's not meant to be a like-for-like swap and there's more to it than that. Hall is a talented shot stopper and is one of the league's best when on top of his game. However, with two knee injuries in two years, and at his price, Hall's health was clearly a concern. The emergence of Earl Edwards Jr., who the coaching staff holds in high esteem, was a catalyst for this move. The Lions saw an opportunity to get younger and cheaper with Edwards and then hedged their bet by bringing in an experienced MLS goalkeeper to provide competition for the UCLA product.
Isn't the hiring of Stewart Kerr a sign that Bendik will be the starter?
While Kerr did work with Bendik at Toronto FC, that doesn't mean Bendik will start. Kerr has worked with a number of goalkeepers and has helped them develop, including Julio Cesar, John Ruddy and Darren Randolph. He'll be tasked with coaching up both Bendik and Edwards, along with young Mason Stajduhar and (if he is officially signed, as reports suggest he will be), Thierry Graca.
While it's certainly helpful that Bendik and Kerr have worked together, it doesn't necessarily portend any particular advantage. It may be that negotiations with Kerr helped facilitate getting Bendik to Orlando. Or vice versa. Or perhaps it was a coincidence. At any rate, whoever plays between the sticks for City next season, they'll need a more cohesive defense in front of them than Hall had last year.
Carneiro has no MLS experience and his arrival forced out GM Paul McDonough. Has ownership lost their minds?
Probably not. I will point out that a lot of our readers and followers on Twitter questioned McDonough's effectiveness in the summer transfer window, even though I felt he did a pretty good job at addressing the team's needs without mortgaging the team's future or overpaying for talent.
Both Phil Rawlins and Flavio Augusto da Silva want Orlando City to have a world class academy system, which is the lifeblood of a good MLS team. As Major League Soccer has evolved, the SuperDraft and Re-Entry Draft are becoming less and less relevant as team-building mechanisms. Both may be gone in a few years. A strong academy, however, is a doorway to talent riches and Orlando is well positioned.
Florida is a talent rich state and Carneiro has experience building a successful academy at one of Europe's big clubs. His hiring will be a good thing in the long run. And a man smart enough to rise to the positions he has occupied is surely intelligent enough to figure out Major League Soccer's rules in fairly short order. I'm not worried that he'll screw up the salary cap or fail to capitalize on allocation order and anyone who is worried about that must have a fairly low level of trust in those who hired him.
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In my view, this has been a pretty run-of-the-mill MLS off-season so far. The team jettisoned mostly players that were deemed expendable or cost more money than their projected value in 2016. They let go of an assistant coach (and that could end up being a good thing, even if Fuller is a club legend, depending on who his replacement is) and likely upgraded the goalkeeper coach. On the player addition side, Orlando brought in a veteran keeper to compete with a young guy the Lions believe in and a right back who can push Rafael Ramos.
There are moves remaining to be made, for sure. We'll know more in the coming weeks about how the team plans to address the open roster spots and whether or not help will come in the form of another Designated Player (or two). Being patient is difficult for sports fans, especially those who are used to winning trophies. But, so far, the team has done nothing catastrophic or panic-inducing.
I do reserve the right to panic later.