The end of the off-season finally seems real, with Orlando City players reporting Friday for the club's 2016 preseason camp. Cyle Larin, Brek Shea and Darwin Ceren -- three of the team's most important players in 2015 -- met with the media at Orlando Health.
As is usually the case, the talk focused on the off-season and the season ahead. Larin said he went back to Canada to spend time with his family, but he also took it upon himself to work hard to improve upon his impressive rookie season.
"(The off-season) went by fast. I had a good break, five weeks back in Canada, and now I'm back and I've starting training," he said. "I've been working on my speed, strength, and conditioning here, just to be faster than defenders next year."
Shea, who missed a good chunk of the season after undergoing sports hernia surgery, got plenty of rest over the late fall and winter.
"Obviously you need time to shut down and rest and recover," Shea said. "But, at the same time, toward the end, you get excited for the season. I think (the rest) was good for me. It kept me more at home and doing family things, and I got to see my family more because of it."
Orlando City fell just short of its goal of making the MLS playoffs in its inaugural season and the players said that remains the team's aim, although this year it seems more of an expectation than a goal.
"We've got the talent to do it and we've got the coaches and the organization," said Larin, who will be departing next week for the Canadian National Team's camp. "I think we should make the playoffs this year because we have a really good team."
Having a healthy Kevin Molino should help with the whole playoff thing. Larin, the 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year, returns after shattering Major League Soccer's rookie goal-scoring record, netting 17 a year ago. He'll look to continue to grow as a player in Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1, playing in front of an attacking midfield that features former Ballon d'Or winner Kaká. Molino missed the majority of the year, just as he was starting to get MLS figured out, after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in a friendly against Ponte Preta.
Heath said several times late last year that Molino was working out in the weight room since he couldn't run and might be a much stronger player in 2016 because of it.
Joining Molino and Kaká in the midfield on the left side could be either Shea or Colombian Carlos Rivas, who has world-class speed and has the ability to be an elite crosser of the ball. The big knock on Rivas' play has been his dreadful shooting accuracy -- or lack thereof.
All three players seemed happy to be back and ready to get the season started.
"Being back in Orlando and in the environment, it feels great," Shea said.
Preseason is only beginning and we'll have more on Monday, as the team will have media availability at the Sylvan Lake Park training facility.