Orlando City SC star player Kaká and his new coach, Adrian Heath, were caught in an amusing debate during the recent media day. The player had mentioned the night before on ESPNFC that he expected Orlando to win a title this season. Heath, after only seeing his players together for the first time that morning, was quick to tamp down those ideas, arguing he'd be happy to make the playoffs.
Its easy to understand why a player with Kaká's resume would expect to walk into MLS and collect some hardware. He has done it at every level; why should his run in the American league be any different?
To mix my sports for a minute, I am reminded of former Orlando Magic point guard Jameer Nelson's comments in the 2008 NBA playoffs. Traveling to Detroit and facing elimination, he predicted the Magic would still prevail. The media went after him, wondering how he could be so brash as to promise such a thing. His response was something to the effect of, we never take the court to lose a game, so why wouldn't I say we will win?
So, as a fan, I'm glad the guy with the largest salary in MLS thinks his team is going to win it all.
On the other end of things, I'm a person who has watched his fair share of soccer over a lifetime. There are two things that are important to consider. First, long-time Orlando supporters are used to winning in USL Pro. Second, MLS is an extremely competitive league.
On the subject of our past success in USL Pro, in many ways it was a fantasy world for the supporters. Phil Rawlins and company brought the club to Orlando from Austin in 2011 with a timetable already set to take the club to the top domestic league. Part of that plan included winning -- a lot. Wins bring fans in, and an established and enthusiastic fan base is exactly what the club needed to sell Don Garber -- and MLS -- on coming to Orlando.
Winning meant spending a lot of cash and bringing in quality players. The collective record in four seasons of 67 wins, 23 ties, and only 12 losses, speaks directly to the high caliber players at the club. The astonishing +112 goal difference might even do so better.
There were two types of teams encountered in USL Pro. First, the established smaller city clubs. Some of our best rivals came from this group, including Rochester Rhinos, Charleston Battery, and Richmond Kickers.
The second, a rougher group of teams with massive financial problems. The foil of our first win, F.C. New York, Antigua Barracuda, and a host of teams from Puerto Rico fit this mold. Nine clubs either folded or moved down a division in the fours years Orlando City played in the league.
It was a league of mixed fortunes. While some clubs struggled to survive, Orlando City was making a play for the big leagues. In many ways, those clubs proved the perfect opposite numbers for our ambitions. The 2014 season featured a team with designs much like ours in Sacramento Republic FC, and the inclusion of MLS reserve squads.
MLS is a different game altogether. The league, in an effort to not repeat the NASL rise and fall of the 1970s and 1980s, put in place a structure that has made the league extremely competitive. There are understandably plenty of critics of MLS, but you can't say they haven't created a stable and competitive league.
There have been nine different winners in the 18-year history of the league. Five of those have been from smaller markets. Ten different teams have won the regular season supporters shield.
It's safe to say that Orlando City is going to get a fair taste of that competition very early on. There are no easy games on the schedule. There are 19 other clubs sitting ready to ruin Orlando's expansion party.
The early season hashtag buzzword coming out of the club this season has been #DefyExpectations. This is something Orlando has been doing since its first season of existence. A number of the players have taken these words to heart early in training camp.
Heath and his team need to come out competitive every night if they wish to defy expectations this season. But then, I've never seen a game in which Orlando City didn't play to win. Plus #ManageYourExpectations is an awful hashtag.