Orlando City's 2016 MLS campaign has been far from what most expected of it way back in March when the season began. Injuries, poor performances, firings, hirings, more injuries, and lackluster play have all played parts in what will amount to a squandered year.
With Adrian Heath gone and Jason Kreis now at the helm of the team, it has been a learning experience for both the players and the new coaching staff to try and figure out where to go from here. Kreis and his staff have been evaluating the roster since he took the new position, but until Orlando was officially out of the playoffs, the evaluation process had to go hand in hand with trying to make the postseason.
Only a small sample size for guys like Pedro Ribeiro, Rafael Ramos, and Cristian Higuita -- due to injuries -- and Carlos Rivas, due to other reasons, had been available for Kreis and company up to this point.
Ribeiro is still not 100% fit after back surgery and Higuita, who was named No. 21 on MLS's 24 Under 24 list, has proven himself a solid young defensive midfielder. The big questions in terms of their futures were directed at Rafa Ramos and Carlos Rivas.
Ramos began the season as the starter at right back, after signing a contract extension in the off-season, but he did not start the 2016 campaign on the right foot. Issues in tracking runners and marking players in the box, as well as getting back on defense after getting forward, were big concerns early in the year. To make matters worse, Ramos suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out for a good amount of the season.
In Rivas' case, he wasn't living up to the Young Designated Player distinction that he has carried with him since signing with Orlando. Under Adrian Heath this year, Rivas only played in 11 games for a total of 311 minutes. He only had two starts, scoring once and notching two assists before Heath was fired in early July. While Heath saw him more as a winger that could provide pace down the flanks and put balls into the box, Kreis has seen him as a second striker to pair up top with Cyle Larin or as a lone striker. Kreis even said in a press conference after a game that Rivas played on the wing that they had to play Carlos "out of position." Since Kreis has taken over, Rivas has appeared in seven games, playing 323 minutes, and has had three starts, scoring twice and grabbing two assists.
In the most recent game against Philadelphia, Ramos performed fairly well considering it was his first game in almost two months. The collective back line held the Union to a rare road shutout, which is fairly impressive for this year's team, and Ramos himself had a hand in it. Ramos was also dangerous on the overlapping attack, getting balls into the box and almost even scoring on one cross that had to be pushed away by Andre Blake.
With Rivas, it was his most effective game since the Montreal match in early September. His speed proved a huge factor on the Lions' first goal, stealing the ball at midfield and bursting down the field, eventually getting a lucky bounce and earning the goal. He was also able to draw a career-high four fouls on his way to a Man of the Match performance.
The game against Philly and the upcoming game against D.C. United should give Kreis and his staff a better idea of who he wants to keep going forward into next year, but if Rivas and Ramos take their opportunities and seize them, there's a very good chance they'll be here for 2017.