We've hit the halfway point in the season for Orlando City and the Lions, through 17 games, sit just just one point under the elusive red line in the Eastern Conference with 21 points and a 4-4-9 record.
While Orlando City hasn't suffered a ton of defeats this season -- their four losses are tied for the lowest total in the East -- the club's nine draws suggest things could be going a lot better, which has prompted ownership to make the decision to fire Adrian Heath as head coach last week.
So, with the season halfway through, I present to you my midseason grades.
Joe Bendik, 8 (MVP) -- The former Toronto FC goalkeeper has started in all 16 games for Orlando City this season, and could not have done a better job at making fans forget about the beloved Tally Hall, who was cut from the club during the offseason. 29 goals against across 17 games doesn't sound great, but Bendik has been put under a lot of pressure because of back line troubles for Orlando of late and he's made the most of it to record 60 saves as well.
Earl Edwards Jr., Incomplete -- Earl hasn't seen the field much with Bendik playing as well as he has through the first half of the year, but he's looked good when called upon in U.S. Open Cup play and has made a few spot starts for Orlando City B.
Rafael Ramos, 5 -- The Portuguese defender may be celebrating his country's recent Euro 2016 title, but he's probably not celebrating much about his performance on the field this season. Ramos has only played in 10 games this season due to hamstring injuries that have sidelined him for most of the past two months. And, coming off an off-season in which he signed a new, higher paying contract extension, his play has noticeably slipped from last year, with his attitude getting at best of him at times, in addition to making too many young mistakes in the back.
Kevin Alston, 6.5 -- Alston finally got his chance to break into the starting lineup in May and has played more effectively than Ramos. He's been a better defender, with the occasional slip-up, and moves the ball well forward in the attack, although his crossing could be improved. As far as good MLS backup fullbacks go, Alston is one.
Tommy Redding, 7.5 -- The 19-year-old has been outstanding for much of his sophomore season in MLS. Taking on, and holding down, a big name like David Villa on the road early in the season was one of his finer moments, but overall he's put in a solid campaign. Redding has shown loads of talent and potential to grow into an anchor on the back line for the next few years for Orlando City. He was able to step up and deliver for the club when David Mateos went down with an injury before the start of the season.
David Mateos, 6 -- It's been an up and down season for Mateos, who has been taking a lot of flak from fans for his play recently. For one of the higher salaries on the team, it's more than fair to say he hasn't played up to expectations most of the time, but he did play well recently against the Houston Dynamo, and, while I'm not saying that speaks for his entire season, it does mean, contrary to belief, he's had good games this season. Performance-wise he's maybe at a 6.5, but after adjusting his rating to the pay scale he's at an easy 6.
Seb Hines, 6.5 -- Prone to the occasional breakdown, Hines has generally played well throughout much of the season, putting in good performances recently against Houston and San Jose, the latter of which may arguably have been his best game of the season. Against the Earthquakes, he also scored one of his two goals in 2016. The expected arrival of Jose Aja will likely mean more competition for Hines, which can only improve the back line play.
Luke Boden, 6 -- Boden's 6 comes from the fact that he's only played in seven games this season for the Lions, and hasn't been all too spectacular in those appearances, making this a pretty average season for the backup left back. Boden's been getting more opportunities lately in the wake of Adrian Winter's departure, which has Brek Shea playing up on the left wing now, opening the space in the lineup for Bodz to jump in.
Brek Shea, 6.5 -- Brek finally scored his first goal with the club earlier this season against the Portland Timbers, and for a guy that scored plenty of goals the last time he was in MLS with FC Dallas, more than a year without a goal is a long time. But that's pretty much been Brek's Orlando City career in a nutshell. He's not a great left back. He gets forward well, but he's not doing enough to make himself a vital part of the attack. Interim coach Bobby Murphy praised him after the Houston game, and there's really a lot of times this season where he looked good, but didn't actually play a role in swinging a result one way or another. An effective Brek Shea can be a real difference maker for this club heading down the stretch.
Harrison Heath, 6.5 -- Harrison only started two games all of last season for Orlando (three appearances), and already has two starts this year, both of which have been very impressive outings, to say the least. The 19-year-old was a stud at New York City FC in May, and put in another solid outing against Houston. I feel like being the son of the coach had many people taking Harrison for granted, but he's really been an impressive young player for Orlando this year with plenty of potential to actually make himself a good player in MLS and beyond. Teammates have called him one of the best passers on the team, and he can show that clearly at times. But there's still work to be done for this far-from-polished product. I'd love to give Heath a 7, but two games doesn't fully justify it.
Servando Carrasco, 7 -- All things considered, I think this has been a very good campaign for Carrasco in Orlando. He's easily the most overlooked player on the team, if you ask me. He's another player I think people take for granted far too much based solely on who he's married to, but the fact is Carrasco has stepped up and played an important role for the club this season. Never quite the star, but a solid role player. He doesn't get to see too much time when both Cristian Higuita and Darwin Ceren are healthy and available, but he looked good in his start against San Jose a few weeks ago. A 7 is not saying he's been the best player on the team, but given his campaign as a whole it's looking good.
Antonio Nocerino, 4 -- It's been a nightmarish start to his MLS career for Nocerino, who's been reduced to a bench player since struggling to gain any momentum for the club after leaving AC Milan. His production hasn't come close to the expensive salary he's collecting, and tension between him and the fans is starting to grow. His best game to date may well be the club's most recent Open Cup game against the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers, but in MLS competition, he's hardly looked comfortable or adjusted to the league at all. Here's to hoping he can turn it around before it's too late.
Cristian Higuita, 6 -- Overall, things could be much better for Higuita this season. That's not saying things have been bad, but there are still problems he needs to fix -- most notably, he's still getting yellow cards far too often, and that hurts the team when he's forced to play more cautiously or is getting suspended. The Montreal game back in May was maybe one of his most impactful games this season, but in general, Higuita has been the same tackling, hard-nosed force night in and night out for this club, averaging over four tackles per game and close to three interceptions.
Darwin Ceren, 6 -- Higuita's partner in crime, Ceren, is also having a pretty suspect year for a guy we expect so much out of. That's not saying he hasn't made an impact alongside Higuita in the defensive midfield, because believe me, this team is without a doubt five times better when they're both on the pitch. Ceren continues to be one of the best passers on the team this season, and he can be a driving force of the offense from the back. He missed a few games back in May and one in June because of a knee injury, but has come back healthy to bolster the Lions' midfield.
Carlos Rivas, 5 -- Like Brek, Rivas finally scored his first MLS goal for Orlando City earlier this season, and it was about time. Rivas came to the team young and lacking experience, and was thrown right into the fire. I personally think an upgrade can be made at the left wing position, but as long as Rivas is here he should be playing, because very few people on this team can run like him. He's a problem for defenders on that left side, and opens up plenty of space with his off-the-ball runs (whenever he stays onside). He's in the doghouse right now, but hopefully he gets out soon enough to help this team out.
Kevin Molino, 7.5 -- I would like to assume that Molino will be in the running for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. After failing to score in any of his eight games last season before his ACL injury, Molino has come back to being the player we all knew so well in the USL. He has six goals with five assists at the halfway point, which is phenomenal for the 26-year-old. A 10-10 season would be the best thing Orlando City could have asked for coming back from injury, and it's very possible the way he's been playing. Without Molino, this is a much less creative team, as we saw a lot last season. And not having Kaká for most of the year has already been a big blow.
Kaká, 6 -- Speaking of, Kaká's only played nine games this season for the Lions, with several different injuries hampering his second year in the league. Those nine games, however, have seen him produce three goals and five assists, which proves that at the very least he's been productive when healthy (and that's been the main problem). Who's to say where this team could be right now if the Brazilian captain where able to stay on the pitch?
Julio Baptista, 7 -- With all of the focus on how bad of a signing Nocerino has been, Baptista has quietly been putting together a very solid campaign for the Lions. The 34-year-old has two goals in 10 games, one of those a monster go-ahead goal at the time against San Jose. He's been effective at drawing fouls and holding off defenders (which, yeah, he's huge), and has been a contributing playmaker from the midfield at times. He's been a solid and perfect backup to Cyle Larin to this point.
Cyle Larin, 7.5 -- Which brings me to the young Canadian sophomore, who's followed up his 17-goal breakthrough performance with eight goals and three assists in 15 games this season. Larin continues to show improvement, while still trying to gain the stamina to last 90 minutes. His best game of the year may just be the Montreal game, where he picked up a brace to secure a big three points at home for his side.
Other Incomplete Grades
- Conor Donovan -- In the 18 on multiple occasions, but hasn't played with the senior team.
- Pedro Ribeiro -- Made three appearances for the club (one start) before undergoing back surgery.
- Devron Garcia -- Has featured in the 18, but has only played for OCB.
- Richie Laryea -- Hasn't played yet, either, but is developing nicely with the reserves.
- Hadji Barry -- Has only appeared in four games this season, all off of the bench. Can't really give him a grade, but I would say he's shown promise and the coaching staff really likes him.
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That's if for my midseason grades. What do you think? Who would you grade differently? Comment below!