This past weekend Major League Soccer announced its upcoming important dates which included the official release of the 2016 regular season schedule on Jan. 7. But before the Lions embark on their second season in the top division, they'll prepare with preseason.
There are several ways teams can approach preseason. For some, it's most important that the team spends a great deal of time together to form relationships that will benefit them on and off the field. For others, it's most important to spend time on the field to solve issues from the previous season or adjust to changes in strategy.
In November 2014, Orlando City announced its intention to travel to Brazil during its preseason. Ever since the club was accepted into MLS on Nov. 19, 2013, the club has seemingly considered the importance of growing the brand equal to the importance of producing on the field. This tour was to continue that process by making the club Brazil's "second team."
The tour, which was to begin near the end of January, was canceled at the beginning of the month with scheduling issues given as the reason. But Head Coach Adrian Heath indicated that staying in Central Florida for the majority of preseason leading into the team's inaugural MLS campaign was better for the on-the-field product.
"Working with the group here does give us more time to get guys in on the system we play, the opportunity to try different systems we might use at different times through the year," Heath stated at the time. "It's an opportunity for players to recognize their roles and responsibilities within the team."
This month, Orlando City will begin its second preseason leading into the 2016 season. But how should the club approach it this year?
Unlike last year, there will be little turnover in players. While only eight players that played with the first team during its final USL season in 2014 remained for the 2015 MLS season, only two new players have joined the team during this off-season. Even with the expected additions in the coming weeks, the difference in players will be minimal.
Meanwhile, the club is still attempting to grow its brand internationally. The club gloats about its Brazilian fan club and in November traveled to the soccer-crazed South American country to face Flamengo, the country's most popular team, in a friendly to celebrate the 120th anniversary of its founding.
Last year saw the Lions face seven teams in preseason, with five of those teams being MLS squads. The only international squad faced was a friendly at the club's training facility against BK Häcken. The Lions also faced their former USL foe, the Charleston Battery, in the Carolina Cup Challenge.
It can certainly be argued that gaining MLS experience is far less important this year, since the entirety of the current squad has at least a full MLS season under their belts. While a tour abroad would've probably already been announced, could Orlando City play more foreign teams in an attempt to grow the brand further internationally?
Another question is, will the Lions stay home or travel to other parts of the country for their training? Orlando City has had some changes this year in the departure of General Manager Paul McDonough and the decision not to renew the contract of long-time Assistant Coach Ian Fuller. With these changes to the soccer side of the club, maybe Heath wants to keep his players in the Orlando area as he did last year to gain comfort in the changes.
Additionally, Heath might rather have the players training during the majority of the preseason in the hot Florida sun where they will play half their regular season games.
Last year, the club announced its preseason plans on January 7, so the announcement of the preseason schedule is likely coming soon. While it's still unknown what the 2016 preseason will look like, there are arguments for different ways to handle the period. No matter what the schedule looks like, one thing is for certain, after an off-season of change the Lions will be anxious to get back on the field.