We are 66 days away from the start of the 2016 MLS Season and now just hours away from the end of 2015. What an amazing year Orlando City has had. The Mane Land has been your source for all of the roundups, countdowns, and highlights of the past year and all the exciting news coming from our Lions.
2016 will be an amazing year, with three separate teams to keep an eye on, all vying to take home their own cup. But as a club, a central organization, what should Orlando City be focused on with its New Year's resolutions? I humbly submit the following:
1. Move Into Our New Home
We broke ground on our new stadium in 2015 and the plan is for Orlando City SC and the Pride to move in some time in late summer. Although fans have managed to breathe passion and life into the Citrus Bowl, we have always known that it was our temporary space. For the club, getting the stadium's atmosphere right is going to be essential. Not just the aesthetic of what it looks like as you approach, but how it comes to life once the supporters are in the stands and everyone is on their feet and cheering. Great concessions, easy sightlines, somehow making a place with 25,000 seats feel cozy and homey is going to be really important. This will, after all, be our new home. And once we are moved in, fans will want to know this is home, so the club needs to make sure it feels that way.
2. Continue to Recruit and Foster Home-Grown Talent
Orlando's future success, not just as the soccer capital of the south but also as the leader in youth development relies on homegrown talent. Continuing the emphasis and devoting the energy to this endeavor is essential. Reallocating coaching staff to work with the academy players is a great move. Hiring more youth coaches and continuing to get more girls and boys in Central Florida passionate about the sport will not only create the opportunity for more homegrown players but will also add another generation of supporters to the bleachers.
3. Focus on the Long-Term, Don't Get Stuck in the Weeds
It was never a secret from Phil Rawlins or Head Coach Adrian Heath that making it to the MLS playoffs in 2015 was a goal. Although we fell just short of that, no one should get discouraged. Teams in Europe that have lasted generations, literally over centuries, have not done so by throwing their toys out of the sandbox after conceding defeat on the first try. If Orlando City's front office, players, and fans are truly in this for the long haul, then we need to look at victory on a continuum. 2015 was our first year. 2016 will be a growth year. If we make the playoffs, great. But if we don't, everyone needs to remember to focus on the bigger picture: playing the beautiful game and enjoying every second of it, and making the dream last for the next generation.
4. Play Fewer Friendlies
This is a practical resolution. In 2015 we played more friendlies than any other MLS team. As a result, we saw some horrific injuries which took out some of our best talent and likely contributed to our overall demise in the playoff race. Friendlies are a great way to get butts in seats, especially tourists. And I understand that pandering to the tourist trade is really important in Central Florida and can undoubtedly be named as one of the factors for our success. But it is also the main contributor to our problems and friendlies should be done sparingly, during downtime, with minimal travel, and not at the expense of player's health and rest time.
5. Continue to Grow the Fan Base and Encourage Soccer in Central Florida Through Community Outreach
The Orlando City Foundation has already done a lot of great work in Central Florida in the few short years that it has been operating. Now, having the added benefit of two more teams of player-philanthropists at its disposal, the OCF is a machine that can stretch its arms more broadly into more communities that are underserved and needing assistance. The community outreach that is at the core of FIFA and MLS is one of the best things that the club can do for raising its public profile and for encouraging the community to rally behind and get involved in a common cause while also further associating the good works to soccer.
Well, Mane Landers, these are my thoughts on where the club should focus its priorities and efforts if we want to start 2016 off on the right path to success.The trick with all resolutions is to stick to them. Hopefully Orlando City's front office will remember to take one day at a time and fans and players need to remember that being patient will be the hardest part but the best reward after a long, hard slog is a really great victory. And we will get there together in the end.
What do you think should be Orlando City's top new year's resolutions? Let me know in the comments.