Going into this Saturday, with our current cringe-worthy record of one win in nine games, the only thing a true supporter and fan can do is look forward.
So let's just skip beyond the next eight likely-to-be painful games and look forward to the conjecture-nado of how to fix the team in the off-season and get ready for our Lions' sophomore season in MLS.
I, humbly, have a few thoughts on the matter:
Getting number 18, Kevin Molino, back onto the pitch will do a lot to help. If you can remember far enough back to May, before the summer heat overwhelmed us, you will remember that the Lions had a phenomenal soccer talent in the Trinidadian (and Tobago!) international.
At that early point in the season, Orlando was on target to make a real fight, with the growing synergy between Molino and his mentor, Kaká, showing incredible promise and excitement. The biggest disappointment of this season was not getting to see that relationship develop into something bigger, and it will be chalked up as a true "what could've been" moment. It will be great to see Kev back on the training pitch in the off-season and I look forward to getting him back at 100%.
Drop the Dead Weight
Let's be really honest about our bench for a moment. We have too much "potential" and not enough "actual" MLS players. Danny Mwanga, Estrela, Eric Avila, Lewis Neal (...sadly), and Pedro Ribeiro are all perfect examples of players who looked like they had the experience to help Orlando City succeed in their season, but for one reason or another have not been able to graft on to the ethos of Orlando City.
Mwanga is a prime example. Apart from his fluke goal in Louisville, he has spent the entire season on the subs' bench and has been lackluster when he did get playing time. Another is Estrela. He and Rafael Ramos came from Benfica together but have had vastly divergent paths since donning Orlando Purple. The 20-year-old Ramos has worked hard and earned his stripes and his place in the starting XI. Estrela, however, has only made the 18-man lineup as an unused sub in four games, and those all came in July and August, when the Lions were without other options.
I realize the kid is only 19, and I am not hard on him for that, but we have to ask why the front office is tying up an international spot who hasn't been more than a name on the roster for most of the season? The front office needs to take a hard look at how much of a stable we want to keep that is purely for future use, when we have been so horribly starved during this season when we could have used some better allocation of resources.
Know Your Role
The players need a seating chart, and the coaching staff have to stick to it. We can't have another repeat of this season where the most interesting tailgate conversation revolved around "I wonder which position X is going to be playing in tonight." The lack of defined positioning has meant that the few leaders on the field have been trying to play every way and producing woeful performances.
With the return of Brek Shea imminent, this should shore up our left side, but the question mark still hovers over why we can't find someone with a right foot that can cross the ball into the box. The constant reshuffling has been primarily out of necessity, and not because Head Coach Adrian Heath is angling for a game of musical chairs, but the weaknesses in depth have only been compounded by a lack of consistency and inability to just stick to a plan and see it through.
We need a starting XI chart printed and laminated. We need consistency above all else.
We need to be smarter with our transfers. In the expansion draft we picked up 10 players, four of whom we traded or sold almost immediately, and one, Heath Pierce, who chose not to sign with us. We traded Donovan Ricketts once Tally Hall was strong again, but have held on to Lewis Neal, Pedro Ribeiro, Tony Cascio, and Danny Mwanga, none of whom are starters, and three of those names I have already mentioned above for their less-than-brilliant contributions this season.
If the Louisville game proved anything, we kicked ourselves in the shins by releasing Bryan Burke instead of keeping him on the books heading into MLS. His level of play was certainly good enough to play with us, instead of helping the USL side to beat us, and we deserved the loss for the performance we gave in Louisville.
I have great hopes for our 2016 season and my hopes for 2015 are not yet extinguished. However, I believe that if we are to improve we have to:
1) Make smart choices during the off-season, do our research on players who will complement our squad before we sign them, rather the current "marry in haste, repent at leisure" idiom that seems to apply to our current transfer policy.
2) Stop playing so many bloody (literally and figuratively) "friendlies," to give our players the rest they need to recover from MLS travel, and by playing them consistently in the same roles, we may just have a chance at getting this ship off the ground.
Until then, I will stand and cheer and savor the atmosphere of our final few matches and remember our first season in MLS with a mixture of wistfulness and melancholy. For no matter what happens, the Lions will always be my team.