Orlando City set out to defy expectations in 2015. But who would have thought things would be this tough?
Four years of dominating clubs in USL gave the club a winning attitude as they made the jump to Major League Soccer this season. They built a roster that they thought could compete with the league's elite teams for the MLS Cup.
Led by world superstar Kaká and a cast of proven MLS veterans, such as Aurélien Collin, Amobi Okugo, and Tally Hall, with a group of young players with plenty of upside ready to grow with the club, there wasn't a reason not to be excited about Orlando City's chances to compete in year one.
After all, just one MLS club since 2000 -- the 2009 Seattle Sounders -- has made the postseason during their first year in the league. Orlando City's gonna be the second, right?
The jury's still out on that one.
If Wednesday night's 4-1 loss at Toronto FC wasn't enough of an indication, then maybe look back on the winless month of July, in which the Lions dropped four straight matches across all competitions. This is a team poised to win titles, but the stark reality is simple: Orlando City is not a team capable of winning titles this season.
There, I said it. I look forward to your rage comments in the section below.
It was pretty clear from the beginning that Orlando City was building this squad with an eye towards dominating for the future. The best way of explaining this is to look at the team's route of filling out its three Designated Player slots compared to New York City FC.
Orlando City went young, aside from Kaká. Carlos Rivas and Bryan Rochez are far from finished products. You can see it any time Rivas steps on the field, he's still learning how to play this game the way Adrian Heath wants him to. There is a lot of raw talent there, but it's going to take a couple of years to develop. Rochez is a different story. This kid -- that's what he is at just 20 -- was asked to leave his wife, kids, and family and move to a totally different country where he doesn't speak the language, to play for Orlando in MLS. That's a lot to ask of him, and as we can see, it's going to take some time with him, too -- but like Rivas, we've seen in his few games that he clearly has talent; we can also see that from his time with the Honduran U-20 squad.
Elsewhere on the roster, you have guys like Rafael Ramos -- great young player, but just needs to learn to control his emotions -- and Cristian Higuita, who is still growing at just 21 years old. Cyle Larin...okay, this kid is awesome. Moving on.
The defense has been a work in progress all season, with Seb Hines' play slipping lately, and the untimely departure of Sean St. Ledger. The addition of David Mateos should help fix some of the problems there.
Injuries have been a massive problem on top of everything else, which has really done arguably the most damage. Kevin Molino being out for the season changed the dynamic of the team from the minute he went down. And even though he's struggled fitting in, losing a player like Brek Shea isn't helpful, either.
The team's approach in the summer window -- picking up just lesser known players and injury replacements -- is another great example of the team not setting all of their eggs in the 2015 basket. By not making any big moves this summer, they put themselves in a position to be even more active in the winter, as they prepare for year two.
Missing the playoffs in 2015 is not the end-all, be-all for Orlando City. They're young, they're loaded with talent, and they're gunning for long-term success, even if it means short-term failure.
In comparison: NYCFC went old with their DPs, even though Jason Kries reportedly wanted someone younger to build around. They went experienced in their roster, and they'll always be in the Manchester City mindset that when there's a problem, they'll throw money at it. Orlando won't be like that.
Listen, all I'm saying is that while this team is good, it's not good enough to win a title this season, and might just barely make the playoffs.