Orlando City has added only two players to the senior squad this off-season so far, but goalkeeper Joe Bendik and defender Kevin Alston have one thing in common -- they reached the Major League Soccer playoffs in 2015. For a team with the goal of making the playoffs, and which views anything less in Year 2 as a failure, that experience is significant.
Players who have been to the playoffs know what it takes and how hard the road is to get there. That kind of background is invaluable because it can manifest itself as leadership, as younger, less experienced players turn to veterans who have done it before for guidance.
On Monday, both Bendik and Alston said Orlando City already has enough talent to reach the postseason in Year 2.
"I think it's a very attainable goal (to make the postseason)," said Bendik. "I was used to (the expectation of the playoffs) in Toronto. That was our goal every single year and we accomplished that the last year. I saw the talent and the hard work that it took and this club has all the capability to do it."
Alston echoed Bendik's remarks that Orlando City already has what it needs to extend its season into the playoffs in 2016.
"We have a goal and we're going to work hard every day," he said. "There's a lot of passion out here. There's a lot of good players. There's good experience, a good group of guys, and I think everybody's hungry.
Both new Lions said they saw a lot of positives in what Orlando City brought to the table from taking the field against OCSC last season.
"It seemed like they had a lot of talent," said Alston. "I think it's always tough when you have new franchises that come in the league -- there's always that transition phase. You have to put a team together. You could tell they had tradition from before they came in the league, and heart, and all the tools. I think they were that close to making the playoffs and I'm confident we can strive for that this year."
"Toward the end of the year they left it all out there," Bendik said. "They showed all their character, their personality, as they went on that long win streak. I think they scared other teams and hopefully we can take that and push it right into the start of the season."
With a combined 11 years in Major League Soccer (Bendik is entering his fifth MLS season and Alston his eighth), the duo represents exactly what Orlando City needed more of last year. In MLS, the guys who seem to have the most impact are players with league experience -- Didier Drogba notwithstanding. They know how to be professionals and are well equipped to deal with the schedule and travel grind that sets MLS apart from most leagues around the world.
And both men were ready for a fresh start.
Bendik, 26, wasn't always a fan favorite in Toronto, although the goals he allowed often weren't his fault. His club built an attacking club that sometimes leaked profusely. Toronto FC allowed 58 goals in 2015, the most of any playoff team and tied with expansion New York City FC and last-place Chicago Fire for the most in MLS. For reference, Orlando City, which had its own spells of defensive issues, allowed 56.
Alston, 27, reached the MLS All-Star Game in 2010, had several injury issues over the years and wasn't getting consistent playing time when healthy. Last season, Alston played in 17 matches, starting 10, which was the most since 2012, when he started 31 matches for the Revs. He seemed energized by the opportunity to come to a team that asks its fullbacks to get forward and join the attack, where he can utilize his blazing speed.
"I was ready for a change and I was grateful to get this opportunity," he said. "I'm hungry and ever since I've been here the support's been great. Everything's been top notch and it's good to get out and play."
Bendik is reunited with his former goalkeeper coach in Toronto, with the Lions' addition of Stewart Kerr to the staff in late December. The former Clemson Tiger said he and Kerr are on the same wavelength and looking forward to battling with Earl Edwards Jr. for the top goalkeeper spot on the team. It's given him a new lease on life in Major League Soccer.
"I think a fresh start is really important," Bendik said. "We've got an excellent staff here and unbelievable support here with the fans. I remember coming here and being absolutely blown away the amount of people in the stands and how loud it was, so I'm really excited."
With the addition of two MLS veterans, Orlando City's "newbies" may get to experience a Citrus Bowl playoff crowd.