When Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis walked into the press room to give his post-game remarks to the assembled media after a 4-2 win over D.C. United, he did something he’d rarely done since arriving in Orlando: he smiled.
“First I need to say something. A lot of people in my family have now told me that I never smile, so I want everybody to get their cameras out and take a picture of this smile,” Kreis said before posing with a big smile.
Kreis and his players were understandably happy about their two-goal win over D.C. on Sunday. The victory capped the 2016 season with two consecutive wins to finish off an otherwise disappointing final few months of the season — a stretch that resulted in the Lions missing out on the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
But what comes next for Kreis is serious business.
“The first thing to do is to sit down with the individual players and to review with them what we thought about the year and get their feedback as well as how they see things and how they feel about how we work,” Kreis said about his first off-season objective.
“We’re always constantly looking to improve, we’re constantly looking for feedback from the players,” he said. “We respect these guys a ton and we want to create an environment in which it’s easy to be successful and so we’ll have those meetings a week from now, or 10 days from now and then we go to work. And there’s a lot of work to be done, because as we know, we can feel very good about the last two matches’ results and about the last four matches’ performances but we’re short, we’ve come up short. We didn’t make the playoffs and so we need to improve. We need to figure out as quickly as we can where those areas are, identify them, and go find the players to fill them.”
Kreis has plenty of work to do this winter. The Lions will be heading into their third season in the league, and will be opening a brand new 25,500-seat stadium on the west side of downtown Orlando. Patience is running thin within the fan base, and one way or another, they’ll be expecting a playoff team in 2017.
Sunday’s performance, if anything, did some work towards building an image of what could be next season, with the Lions capping off their year with consecutive wins for the first time in nearly two months. The team’s attacking midfield game looked to come together more than ever, with Kaká, Matías Pérez García, and Kevin Molino looking comfortable together with Carlos Rivas and Cristian Higuita playing important roles.
“I think for me, we saw snapshots [on Sunday] of what we’ve been looking for and what we will continue to look for next year,” Kreis said. “I think it leaves a great visual image in the fans’ minds tonight for what they can expect to see next year.”
Even if Kreis has plans to gut a large portion of the roster, every one of those players above should still be around when kickoff arrives in March, which is the most important part.
On the whole, 2016 wasn’t the season Orlando City was hoping to have, but the Lions held their heads high down the final stretch and finished strong in their final two games. Now, it’s on to the off-season, where the next phase of Kreis’ evolving challenge with Orlando City lies, as he looks to put his official stamp on the club.
“I would say that I haven’t made any mark yet, and I am certainly hopeful that I can,” he said. “I have fallen in love with this community, with this club very, very quickly, and I will be more than willing to do anything necessary to help this club move forward next year.”