We've done a few of these roundtable things in the past, but we're bringing them back as more of a regular feature in 2016. Each week, a few members of the staff will weigh in on the topics of the day. This is our off-season edition. For this week, we've tapped Andrew Harrison, Robert Vega, and Sean Rollins.
Let's get to the questions:
What move do you think Orlando City should have made this off-season but didn't?
Andrew: The biggest regret I think that Orlando City will have about this off-season is failing to sign a DP forward. Larin may have shattered all records last season as a rookie but with teams having learned how to play him and the potential for the dreaded ‘sophomore slump' in 2016, the decision to not sign a big name may come back to haunt them.
Robert: I really wish they would have changed things up in the front office, if only just to keep things interesting. Outside of that I would have liked to see some depth up front. Cyle Larin scored a lot of goals, but he still has a lot to learn before he can be considered a complete player. While there is a lot of reason to be optimistic about Larin, there is also a lot of potential variability in his performance. If Larin slows in his progression or misses any chunk of time, the variability only increases. Bryan Rochez has promise, but less certainty. Pedro Ribeiro is slower than my daughter when she's trying to walk backwards. Beyond that, you're looking at rookies or trying to stick Carlos Rivas there again.
Sean: The club should have signed some more MLS experienced defenders. The team lacks depth and quality in the back line. That could be a problem this year especially with no clear number one in net.
Is the 2016 team going to be any better depth-wise than 2015? Why/why not?
Sean: 2016 will have better depth mainly because of OCB. The fact that players that don't play often with the senior team will be getting regular minutes will have them better prepared when called upon. Also, there are a couple homegrowns at OCB and the club probably has rights to some of the younger OCB guys, so they can sign them to MLS contracts if needed. This means there's probably actually more players available throughout the season than what's on the senior roster.
Robert: Yes. That's probably as much an admonishment on last year's depth than it is a statement about this year's. With the Antonio Nocerino signing, the depth in midfield is much better. But there are still concerns. I already talked about the forward situation above. Defense is roughly the same as last year, but goalkeeper is thinner. The big difference, though, is simply the existence of OCB. This year, there's a whole pool of players who will be playing full time and available to help the senior squad when needed.
Andrew: As anticipated, heading into this off-season, the club has gone out and tried to fill in some of its roster weaknesses. An example, the signing of Kevin Alston from New England. The versatile defender can play both wing-back positions (which is important in Heath's system) and it provides depth at that position where we were so desperately lacking at times last season. However, overall I am going to say that we ultimately haven't made the improvements we need to. By taking recognized FIFA breaks we are compressing our schedule, which means more double game weeks, and, by having some players play for OCB as well as Orlando City, I expect that come mid-season we will look tired due to a surprising lack of depth all over the pitch.
Who are your two breakout players for 2016 and why?
Robert: Carlos Rivas and Rafael Ramos. I recall seeing Rivas early on last year and thinking about what a lost puppy he was. I felt like giving him a snack and scratching him behind the ear. As the year went on, he started getting more comfortable and started to show some of what made him attractive in the first place. Don't get me wrong, he still has a way to go, but he did put in some beautiful crosses and I still get a warm feeling when I think of the free kick he rocked against West Brom. He may struggle for playing time initially, but long seasons have a way of working that out. Ramos was similar. He had some games where he simply lost his head, but he also showed a good bit of skill on the ball. Both of these guys are so young, that I look at these glimpses as signs for the future as opposed to the proverbial blind squirrel finding his nut.
Andrew: My breakout players for this season are going to be Trinidadian Kevin Molino and Canadian Richie Laryea. Despite Molino having played for the Lions since 2011, those new to Orlando City didn't get a chance to see what Molino can bring to the team after an early season injury. After a long lay-off and a lot of time training and building up muscle, I expect Molino to be a game changer for the team this season. I am also pegging midfielder Richie Laryea as having a great season, as I think he has the resources to excel here in Orlando (with his close friend No. 9 Cyle Larin) and after an 11-goal, seven-assist season during his time with the University of Akron last season, I believe that he will offer another avenue for scoring and providing assists for Orlando's playmakers this season.
Sean: The first one may not be a surprise, but Kevin Molino. Since Kevin barely played last season and it was his first MLS season, I'm not sure he would be considered to have broken out yet. After a year in the gym (a place he was previously afraid of), his upper body will be stronger and that was the weakest part of his game. I think he's bound for a big year. The second one is Bryan Rochez as a super sub. Obviously he'll be playing behind 2015 MLS Rookie of the Year Cyle Larin, but we saw glimpses of what Rochez can do last season and I think he'll make himself nationally known this year as a super sub.
Last season, the Lions didn't get their first home win until May 17. Who is Orlando City's first home victim in 2016? Do the Lions get that W on opening day against RSL?
Sean: I think the Lions will be able to beat RSL in their first game. RSL has struggled since Jason Kreis left and much of their team is still quite young and inexperienced. Plus, their core older guys like Kyle Beckerman, Jamison Olave, and Chris Wingert are getting up there in age and I think will begin to show signs of deterioration.
Andrew: My call for the first three points of the season will be the second game against the Chicago Fire on March 11. I believe the first home game will be a cagey affair against an improved Real Salt Lake side who will already have some competitive games under their belt due to their participation in the CONCACAF Champions League and with no team wanting to lose the first game, I expect Orlando to play for the draw while they find their feet as a team. However, I don't anticipate the team taking as long as last season to grab three points since the Chicago Fire come to town five days later and, with them having a new coach, recently losing their talisman Harry Shipp, and not much traveling support, I thoroughly expect three points from this game.
Robert: I think it will be against RSL. The key difference between this year's opener and last is the comfort level of the team. There had to be some real pressure for this team to perform last year with it being the first ever MLS game in front of a full Citrus Bowl. This year, the team should be more comfortable. RSL is coming off a pretty weak year, so if you're talking about making the playoffs, this is the type of team you need to beat at home, when the Citrus Bowl is full. Again.
Call your shot...how many points does Orlando City earn in 2016 and is it enough to make the playoffs?
Robert: I'm actually going to take this a little backwards. I think the team will make the playoffs. Last year, excluding NYRB, the gap between second and sixth place was four points. That's it. Four measly points. Columbus came in second with 53 and Toronto pulled up the playoff caboose with 49. The Western Conference was similar. The gap between Vancouver (53) and Sporting KC (51) was only two points. So, with all that said, I think Orlando is going to come in with 50 points and squeeze into the playoffs.
Sean: I think they'll get 41 points and miss out on the playoffs. I just don't see where the team has improved enough to make a jump. I think if they can stay healthy and national team call-ups don't hurt too much, maybe they can get up near 48 and sneak into the final playoff spot.
Andrew: I'm probably going to be in the minority here but I say they get 47 points and don't make the playoffs. One reason: I think the compressed schedule with hurt us throughout the season as a whole (even though I like that big name players will see more time for the Lions). Another: I think that other teams around us have just gotten better.
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Well, that's it for this week. Feel free to offer your rebuttal to any/all of our answers or give us your own in the comments section below.