It's a fun time of year to be an Orlando City fan.
With a full season of this whole "Major League Soccer" thing under their belts, the Lions come into 2016 with a much better idea of where they stand as a club. Orlando hasn't added any major star power this off-season, so Adrian Heath and his staff will have to rely on key returning players to step up during the regular season.
But what can City fans expect to see from these familiar faces? Let's take a look at the best and worst-case scenarios for some returning Lions in 2016.
While he's not at the age where players tend to improve dramatically, there's reason to believe 2016 could be far kinder to Orlando City's captain. A budding partnership with Cyle Larin up top and a strong defensive midfield behind him could allow Kaká to break out on offense this season. If he avoids disappearing for long stretches in the final third and holds off father time for one more year, this could be a big season for Kaká.
He goes back to Italy. Just kidding, though that would be kind of a bummer.
As long as Kaká is on the field, he's going to make a difference for Orlando City. That's why a disastrous campaign would involve injuries and international call-ups that wear down the 33-year-old midfielder. Let's say Kaká sustains an injury early in the year and rehabs just in time for the Seleção to come calling. Orlando City fans grind their teeth and the club misses the playoffs for the second year in a row.
We'd all love to see vintage Brek make the same marauding runs he pulled off with FC Dallas back in the day, but that's not where Orlando is likely to deploy him in 2016. Shea is penciled in as Orlando's starting left back this season, where Heath will look to capitalize on his speed to shore up the Lions' defense along the flanks. Playing behind a rejuvenated Orlando attack, Shea finds space to create some magic on offense, while primarily being used as a defensive missile.
And Jürgen Klinsmann begins to use "Brek Shea" and "Russia" in the same sentence.
Shea only played 19 games for Orlando last season, so injuries are obviously a concern. But Orlando City's team health could play a bigger role in determining the success of his second year in Orlando. If he's forced to play back-and-forth between left back and left midfield, Shea's production will surely take a hit.
Canadian Messi had a breakout year in 2015.
Larin notched 17 goals and brought home the MLS Rookie of the Year Award, but he'll be expected to build on that success during his sophomore season. Coming into 2016 as Orlando's most potent offensive weapon, Larin will be harshly judged if he's unable to eclipse his scoring mark from a year ago. That kind of judgment probably isn't fair, but it's just life for a promising young striker in MLS.
An ideal campaign for Larin would see him continue to bag goals while building a partnership with Kaká, Carlos Rivas, Kevin Molino and the rest of Orlando City's attacking talent. Larin could also be a priceless mentor for Orlando SuperDraft pick and fellow Canadian Richie Laryea.
A bad year for Larin would be pretty simple.
If the kid can't score, fans will start to question whether last year's performance was a fluke. Let's say Larin starts to overthink his immense ability in the final third and a dip in performance follows. It's not likely, but it would be a significant blow to Orlando's playoff hopes and would stunt Larin's development in the process.