Orlando City General Manager Paul McDonough is frustrated with FIFA international dates...and, really, who could blame him?
Three Lions left on international duty prior to the New England match and two -- Darwin Ceren and team captain Kaká -- are returning injured. They just happen to be two of City's most important midfield starters.
"We are incredibly disappointed with this recent development for Kaka and for our fans," McDonough said in a club press release. "He has played 25 games for us so far this season, over 2,100 minutes, without any major issues or concerns. To the contrary, he undergoes one training session and match with the Brazilian national team and he is injured."
Part of the reason for the frustration is that Orlando City was forced to play an important match without its captain. Part has to be borne out of the season-long parade of players to the trainer's table, which began before the Major League Soccer campaign began. Guys like Martin Paterson and Carlos Rivas began the year with knocks and there's been a procession of wounded guys leaving the pitch ever since.
Even if MLS had stopped for the FIFA calendar - which, stupidly, it doesn't -- Kaká could still have gotten hurt and missed the New England game. So the stupidity of MLS not observing FIFA dates doesn't necessarily mean the Brazilian wouldn't have been hurt if MLS halted play for the week. Some would like to do away with friendlies because of the injuries we've seen to Kevin Molino and Harrison Heath.
But injuries are a fact of life, particularly in soccer, and guys get hurt in training all the time. Should we also abandon training? I don't think anyone would argue that. I do agree that in-season friendlies are probably more risky than necessary but Orlando City is hardly the only MLS team to schedule them.
"International call-ups have been a challenge for us, as we are also evaluating an injured Darwin Ceren following his participation with El Salvador," McDonough said in the release. "It's the same thing we faced with Brek Shea earlier in the year after he returned from play with the U.S. national team. Unfortunately, we are obliged to release these players according to FIFA rules, and then are left to deal with the fallout after the fact. Again, I am very disappointed for our fans and for our injured players."
The bad luck Orlando City has faced this season with injuries is nearly beyond comprehension. The fact that the expansion side hasn't had the depth to deal with those injuries is not unusual; few top flight teams have good depth their inaugural season.
Some might say McDonough is deflecting his squad's lack of depth with his statements about the international breaks and perhaps it's a fair point. It is, after all, the GM's job to adequately stock his team. McDonough talked to a lot of players and agents over the course of this season and addressed several roster spots in the summer transfer window -- fullback (Corey Ashe), center back (David Mateos), right wing (Adrian Winter), and striker (Adam Bedell, albeit with an eye on the future).
Winter and Mateos are finally starting to settle in with their teammates. Ashe started brightly, had a couple of less impressive outings, and then started to come on again, only to suffer a knock at New England. Bedell is in Denmark, scoring goals and hopefully developing ahead of the 2016 season to give the Lions another look from the forward position.
One thing McDonough didn't do was to mortgage the future or panic spend for the sake of trying to save this season. The team is well positioned to add multiple quality players this winter and perhaps get some of the same ones they talked to over the summer for less money. The majority of the team will have had a full season of acclimating to Major League Soccer.
Orlando City may not defy expectations and make the playoffs in 2015. But the team added necessary pieces to fill holes this season. It's not their (or McDonough's) fault guys keep getting hurt. The club will almost certainly have better luck on the injury front next year and hopefully a few key signings to improve the team.
Look at New England -- a team so rich with depth that it could bring Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo off the bench. That's how powerful MLS squads are built and McDonough will construct such a squad over time.
For now, he's frustrated with an overflowing team infirmary. As are we all.