What a great spring it was. Orlando City showed so much promise in the beginning of the year and fans began to believe that the Lions were on their way to truly "defy expectations." But, what a lousy summer it has been. The Mane Land investigates how a team with so much promise can end up with so many unanswered questions, looking for lots of help to make the playoffs.
Orlando City certainly have played themselves into the position in which they find themselves today, but what has lead to such erratic runs of form? Let's take a look at some of the major culprits.
When Kevin Molino, a player thought of as a building block and major piece for the future, as well as a current threat out of the attacking midfield in Adrian Heath's starting 11, went down with a torn ACL in a friendly against Ponte Preta, his absence left a huge gap on the right side of the field. It's hard to replace a player who, just last season, lead the USL with 20 goals and nine assists. Molino's injury and absence put Orlando City in a tough position: how do you fill a major gap in the lineup without making obsolete a player the team hopes to rely on in the future? The Lions experimented with Eric Avila and Lewis Neal on the right side of the midfield, but did not have much success with either player. Towards the end of the transfer window, Adrian Winter joined the team to help solidify the wing position in Heath's 4-2-3-1. With the season seemingly drawing to a close, perhaps the bright spot is that Molino should be back in the line-up next year.
The Mane Land's own Sean Rollins recently wrote a piece calling for MLS to adopt FIFA's international calendar in order to ease the burden on teams who have players on national teams. His argument, essentially, is that some teams are punished for having developed or purchased players who are skilled enough to play for their country. Orlando fans should be clamoring for that change. Cyle Larin, Brek Shea, and Darwin Cerén have been called up multiple times for their national sides, Kaká has now played himself back into the Brazil side, and the Lions simply do not have the depth to make up for these absences. Larin and Cerén have been, arguably, Orlando's best players this season and the cast of characters called upon to fill their boots has not been ideal. To be fair, though, Carlos Rivas played well whenever Shea missed due to international play.
To ensure a lineup like this doesn't happen again, the front office needs to find the depth to deal with the strain of the international calendar.
Here's The Mane Land's full list of player absences this season.
Questionable Roster Moves
With Kaká, Kevin Molino, Aurelien Collin, Amobi Okugo, Brek Shea, Tally Hall, Darwin Cerén, Rafael Ramos already on the roster, it seemed as though Orlando City went into the Expansion Draft focused on building league relationships with roster moves and trades, instead of focusing on taking players who were available. The Ricketts pick, for example, is hard to justify, given that attacking players such as Patrick Mullins--the 11th overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft--Diego Fagúndez, and Alan Gordon all could have been a more useful number one pick. Orlando City basically rented Ricketts for three months of work, asking him to play in 10 matches until Tally Hall returned. A proven and dependable sidekick for Cyle Larin might have helped earn a few extra points along the way.
The front office also could have used the Expansion Draft to ensure the Lions had the depth to make a deep run into the playoffs. There's no need to try to hit a home run with every pick; playing small ball can help to fill out a team during a grueling season. A more effective use of the Expansion Draft could have helped Orlando City weather the storms caused by injury and by international call ups.
Lets hope we've all learned how important depth can be throughout an intense and difficult MLS season.