Orlando City ended its season back in late October, but the off-season “officially” arrived for Orlando and the rest of Major League Soccer this week following the MLS Cup Final in Toronto last Saturday.
After announcing a slew of roster cuts on Thanksgiving eve, the Lions made their first additions of the winter this week, officially beginning the rebuilding phase of Jason Kreis’ first off-season with the club.
Three thoughts from the week:
A Focus On Defense
Kreis said it flat out after the Lions’ final game of the season: The defense is going to be the club’s main focus this off-season. While the Lions were the third-highest scoring team in MLS, they let in more goals than they scored, which, as you would imagine, was a major reason why the club failed to make the playoffs in Year 2. This week, the club added one defender, Donny Toia, in a trade with Atlanta United following the Expansion Draft. Orlando also announced a new four-year contract for center back Jose Aja, while nearing the completion of signing an “elite” center back, name unknown, who is currently playing first division soccer somewhere in Europe.
There’s no reason to think Orlando City can’t be a competitive club in 2017 with the attacking core it has, but it all comes down to the team’s ability to defend. And so far, it looks like they will be much more prepared on the defensive side of the ball next season.
Find a Starting Left Back: Completed
Left back was arguably the club’s weakest position in 2016, right up there with center back. From Brek Shea to Luke Boden, the club struggled for quality defending on the left side. Mikey Ambrose showed some promise, but he was left exposed in the Expansion Draft and was picked up by Atlanta. And after cutting Boden, the team was left without a body at left back.
But the addition of Toia, a 24-year-old MLS vet with over 70 matches under his belt since 2014, brings some much-needed quality to the left back spot. Orlando let go of its eighth overall pick in the upcoming SuperDraft for Toia and he’ll need to perform right away to justify that kind of value. But I still like the pickup. It would’ve been easy for the club to go out of its way to sign a bigger name, but Toia is a solid player. Kreis is familiar with him after his time in Salt Lake City and Toia fits well into his system.
If the club finds another fullback that can play on the left and backup Toia, I feel pretty confident about the position next season, which I can’t say was often the case in each of these last two seasons.
There’s Still Plenty Left to Be Done
By no means is the club in an automatic position to win the MLS Cup next season. There is still work that needs to be done, obviously. Tightening up the defense is, of course, priority No. 1, but Orlando still needs to find a backup forward to Cyle Larin now that Julio Baptista does not appear to be coming back. The midfield is still looking a little thin, and I’d like to see another attacking midfielder added into the mix, preferably someone that can play on the wings. And possibly another center back and two fullbacks.