clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Orlando City at Mid-Season: Our TML Staff Roundtable Discussion

The Mane Land staff discusses how Orlando City has performed through the first 17 games of the team's inaugural Major League Soccer season and what it should do moving forward to ensure even more success.

As Orlando City prepares to embark on the second half of its inaugural Major League Soccer season tomorrow night at Real Salt Lake, it's time to gather up the lads and discuss the first half. I posed some questions to our staff to get their individual takes on what we've seen so far through 17 MLS matches from our Lions.

Chiming in with their hot takes are Mane Land writers Kevin Mercer, Kyle Foley, Brent Petkus and Gavin Ewbank. It seems like these guys are often on the same page, although not always unanimous in their answers. See if you agree with their takes:

Who is your Orlando City Player of the Season so far, and why?

Kevin: Kaká. While there are a number of exceptional candidates -- Cyle Larin, Aurélien Collin, and Darwin Cerén to name a few. The difference between these players and Kaká has been his ability to have a positive effect on every game he's played in, even on an off night. Injuries and numerous international call-ups have challenged other players to jump into the season as solidly as Kaká has. With that said, I still think we haven't seen the best from him.

Kyle: For me, the player of the season so far is Kaká. I know that may be the cliché answer, but despite a few lackluster performances, the way he has led the team through it all has been fantastic. On and off the field, Orlando City could not have a better captain.

Brent: This is a tough one because there were a lot of deserving players. The player of the season at the halfway point is Aurélien Collin. Collin has been an anchor on the back line and he has kept the back four organized. I think we all knew going into the season Kaká was going to be a focal point of the team, but our defense was something of a question mark. Collin has stepped in and given the team a leadership presence on the back line. During matches you can see him talking to his midfielders and making sure their positioning is correct. There were many games during the first half of the season that Collin was the Man of the Match because of his timely tackles and leadership.

Gavin: This is a tough one because no one player really stood out miles above the rest, but if I had to pick one I'd say it's Cyle Larin. This kid didn't get his first chance to start until more than a month into the season, and he hasn't yet shown me why he shouldn't be the team's starting forward. He's scoring for his club and he's scoring for his country. I'm excited to see how he continues to grow as a player.

What's your defining game of the season's first half?

Kyle: Easily the thrashing of the defending champions, LA Galaxy. For a team that many said wouldn't belong in MLS, this game showed that we do belong and can contend (and demolish) the best. The nice streak it put us on was good, too.

Brent: The defining game for me was home against the New England Revolution on May 8. New England had a seven-game unbeaten streak coming into Orlando. Orlando was down 2-0 after a dismal pass back by Rafael Ramos. The young Portuguese defender didn't have a meltdown like he did few weeks prior against Columbus. He came back served an excellent ball to Cyle Larin and the Orlando comeback was on. The Citrus Bowl was electric and Orlando pushed the play for the last 20 minutes, finally setting up Collin's equalizer. That game for me eased Orlando City's nerves at home and set up the LA Galaxy 4-0 win.

Gavin: My defining game of the first half has to be the 2-2 draw at home against the New England Revolution in May -- that was the game that really jump-started the team's great run of form over the past two months. Down 2-0 at home, where they hadn't won a game all season, they showed a lot of fight to come back in the game and get the draw. Of course the very next week they beat the LA Galaxy 4-0 at home.

Kevin: May 8, the 2-2 tie with the New England Revolution. It was the first game the Lions showed teeth and fought for something when the game seemed out of reach. Down two goals to the defending Eastern Conference champs, who came into the Citrus Bowl in fantastic form. After going down two with 73 minutes to go, nobody would have faulted the Lions for declaring it wasn't their night and enduring another loss. The club showed both the character the supporters expect from them and their willingness to play every minute of the game. It set up the club to continue fighting for success and put them into the playoff hunt that they are in now.

One position Orlando has to upgrade in the July transfer window is...?

Brent: Outside back/outside midfielder. Orlando City's depth can be exposed here if we get an injury to Ramos or Boden. Tyler Turner needs more time to develop and isn't ready to be put in the lineup. Outside midfield is an issue as well. We will be seeing more Carlos Rivas but, who else? I might be a little apprehensive of signing Chicharito because it means less playing time for Larin or Pedro Ribeiro. However, Chicharito is a world class player and if he wants to play in MLS, I want him wearing purple and white.

Gavin: Well, I've pretty much gotten full on board with the whole "Chicharito-to-Orlando" rumors, but forward's not really an area of need. I think they definitely need to add a defender at center back or, even more so, someone that can play both center and fullback. But going for an upgrade, I think they need to add a midfielder on the wing that can play over Lewis Neal and Eric Avila on the right side -- someone that can step in and play the creative winger role left by Kevin Molino.

Kevin: As a team still on the build, this is tricky. We may have the parts we need still trying to find their way into the team. To pinpoint one position, I'd say right midfield. Rafael Ramos has been dangerous on that wing, but he needs a running mate -- somebody who can work with him, Kaká, Cerén, and Larin to emulate the threats coming from the left side with Luke Boden and Brek Shea.

Kyle: It's easy to say the striker position, especially with the Chicharito rumors, but I actually think we need to add some quality to the wings. Without Kevin Molino, we are having a hard time getting anything done on the right side. Larin, Pedro, and Rochez (not to mention Mwanga and Pato for now) give us plenty of options up top.

One tactical change you'd like to see in the second half of the season?

Gavin: Tactically, I think the team has been pretty sound this season. I wanted to see Carlos Rivas start to get more involved and now that Brek Shea is going to be out for at least a few weeks with a groin injury, Rivas will get consistent starts.

Kevin: As good as Ramos and Boden have been on the offensive end, they both end up being exposed at times in the back. I think you have to keep them involved in the attack. The wrinkle they provide in the attack is a crucial part of Adrian Heath's plans. At the same time, we have to cover that vulnerability on the wings and learn the limits of pushing these players into the attack. Teams have not exploited those wings yet, but I feel it's only a matter of time that a few coaches watching our tapes will realize we have two players who, despite loads of talent and hustle, are still inexperienced at the MLS level.

Kyle: I want to see the younger players getting some more action. I cringe every time I see one of our defenders go down because as much as I love Turner and Redding and Con-Don, they just haven't played enough to convince me that they would be able to come in and contribute on the MLS level yet.

Brent: Tactically I love the style of play Orlando plays. It is extremely entertaining and sets up well for the team's roster. The 4-2-3-1 formation has been excellent on pushing teams to the outside and minimizing dangerous chances up the middle of the field. They have to get better at defending set pieces. These are small moments in the match they have to win. They were punished in games where they dictated the play for the majority of the game only to give up a set piece goal late.

What's your overall assessment of the transition from USL to MLS so far?

Kevin: It has been a bit of a roller coaster so far to be honest. MLS parity is nothing like being overpowered in the USL. At midseason, I see things leveling out and we are starting to have the season we all expected we'd be having. I think from a supporter's perspective, our USL success made dealing with the early realities of life in MLS a little harder than any of us expected.

Kyle: I would say it has been as smooth as it could have been. We had a few bumps in the road at the beginning but as of late the team has shown they are a definite contender in the league. I am only worried about how they will fare later in the season.

Brent: The MLS expansion draft helps set up teams to not be bottom table teams in their first year. Orlando was savvy with some moves for Hall and Collin but, as for the USL players, they have fared well. Boden, Ramos, and Cerén have been in the starting lineup for most of the season and have done an excellent job making the jump to the top league. Overall, I think USL teams in the future will use Orlando City as a blueprint on how to take their team to MLS.

Gavin: I know that being an Orlando City fan I should have expected them to come in and win every trophy they play for this year, but I've actually been pretty surprised with what the team has been able to accomplish this season. We figured coming in that the East would be weak enough for the Lions to contend in the conference, but it's turned out to be a lot closer than expected. That's going to make for a great final month or two of the season, but so far this team has #DefiedExpectations.

Judging from what you've seen in the first 17 games, is this a playoff team? If so, how far do you think the Lions can push into the playoffs?

Kyle: Not only is this a playoff team, this is a team that can win the title. I know part of that is the fan in me but when the team comes together, nothing has been able to stop them. Either through the U.S. Open Cup or MLS Playoffs, Orlando City will be bringing a trophy back into town and we will see them in the CONCACAF Champions League. Big goals for an expansion team but they have been able to defy expectations so far.

Brent: Orlando is (tied in points for) third in the Eastern Conference and the way they are moving the ball and scoring this team is a playoff team. They can go as far as their defending will take them. If Collin can get healthy, the combination of him and St. Ledger bring experience to the back line. The true litmus test for Orlando is coming with two difficult games on the road against Real Salt Lake and the Seattle Sounders. This team has the ability to make a run in the MLS Cup and I see them hosting a playoff game and making it to the semifinals of the conference.

Gavin: Yes, this is definitely a playoff team. With the way D.C. United is pulling away I don't see us having any chance at the Supporters' Shield at this point, but best case I see them entering the playoffs as a third or fourth seed with the ability to reach at least the Eastern Conference semifinals if they come in playing well.

Kevin: Definitely. The club seem to be growing each week and learning from early season heartbreaks at a blistering pace. Kudos to the players and coaching staff for the hard work it must take to find chemistry and success so early in the season. I think we will land in the playoffs, right around the third, fourth, or fifth spot.

Once we hit the playoffs, it's anybody's game, of course. My prediction is we do well, but there is some heartbreak looming. Maybe a semifinal loss to one of the established clubs that knows how to win these types of playoff games. I think we will get enough of a taste to come back a really hungry team next season.

* * *

So there you have our staff takes. What are your responses to these questions? Let us know in the comments section below.