Throughout a season, every sports team faces challenges. While many criticize the athletes and coaches during these times, these situations often reveal the character of the team or lack thereof. Orlando City has found itself facing such challenges early in its inaugural MLS season and we'll soon see the character of this team.
Orlando City had a strong start to the 2015 MLS season, securing four points from the first two games. After seeing U.S. international Mix Diskerud give New York City FC the lead in the season opener, Kaká equalized in the 90th minute, finishing in a 1-1 draw. The next week the Lions traveled away for the first time, defeating the Houston Dynamo 1-0 on a gutsy goal by substitute Pedro Ribiero.
The Lions received their first loss of the season Saturday night to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite dominating possession for most of the game, the Lions conceded the winning goal six minutes into injury time. A set piece by Pedro Morales resulted in the winning goal by Octavio Rivero in the 96th minute.
As tough as the 1-0 loss to Vancouver was for Orlando City, the team is preparing to face another challenge this coming weekend. While most leagues around the world observe FIFA's international dates, MLS does not, leaving the Lions without several key players for their trip to Montreal.
Four starters from the last two games, Rafael Ramos, Darwin Ceren, Kevin Molino, and Brek Shea, have all been called into their national team camps for upcoming friendlies. In addition, Estrela, Cyle Larin, and Conor Donovan will also be missing due to international duty.
Little is known about the character and resilience of this Orlando City team. Having only been together for seven weeks, they have yet to experience true adversity. Saturday night's loss, coupled with losing several key players against Montreal, will see the Lions' character tested for the first time.
When facing this type of adversity, there are two ways a team can respond. Either the players can stick together and fix their deficiencies or they can assign blame and stumble into a freefall. Teams that have the character to stick together generally are the ones that contend.
Another aspect of a team that adversity reveals is leadership. Every great team needs strong leadership, not just from a coach, but from veteran players. While Kaká is the captain and it is generally assumed that he is a fine leader, his leadership will be put to the test in the next few weeks.
During Orlando City's four years in USL Pro, there wasn't much adversity for the club. They won five trophies in four years and generally had little trouble with opponents. Even the adversity they did have was miniscule, considering that the club won a trophy each of those four seasons.
In just the third and fourth weeks of their first MLS campaign, the Lions are already facing tougher challenges than they faced in their USL era. The response to those challenges will greatly tell of the character of the team.