If anything has been learned by moderate through expert football fans over the past few years, it’s the fact that ideas can overcome talent. Groups of naturally gifted individuals can be a "team." It seems that these days in modern sports, with the majority of the most popular ones being team sports, the idea of a group of people coming together under one idea for the achievement of a common objective has been lost, and instead we often see a group of individuals. The 2016 Champions League and Euro 2016 competitions offer great examples of how sides that are technically superior on paper can be overcome by a group of well-disciplined players.
Portugal came into this summer’s premier tournament with almost no expectation. They had a combined center back pairing that was as old as the sun and an aging superstar that played virtually no part in Real Madrid’s 11th Champions League final win. Sure, they had a few talented youngsters that they were hoping could do something, but no one expected for this Portugal side to win the competition, let alone against the hosts in the final. However, they achieved their country's first major tournament win by playing intelligently into their strengths, and not allowing other teams to expose their weaknesses.
This is a team that didn’t win a game in the group stage and only had one shot on target in their round of 16 win over a very impressive Croatian team. Portugal’s workman-like mentality combined with the correct system and tactics allowed them to overcome opponents of a higher quality and perhaps even surpass their potential. Ex-pros and other pundits have said incredibly negative things about their triumph, suggesting that it was "anti-football" and almost berated it for being a detriment to the sport, but winning is winning -- the trophy doesn't discriminate.
However, that’s a different article entirely. How does this all relate to Orlando City? Well, in a pretty massive way.
Some MLS clubs, including Orlando City, seem to be gravitating towards an organizational model that focuses on a big star rather than a flexible tactical idea. People often throw around the phrase "footballing philosophy" and how their specific club seeks to pander towards an idealistic style of play. That idea is fine in theory, but very few organizations actually achieve this.
The only club that consistently plays the same, or at least a similar, style of football within the past few years is FC Barcelona, and even they tweak their system. The most efficient way to run a club from a tactical perspective is to evaluate what the best system would be in regards to the players a club already has, rather than trying to fit players into a system that may not fit them.
This also works in a transitional sense. Teams often find success for some time with a group of players but have to replace a few important cogs and try to go out and find a player that is the same as the one they're attempting to replace. Sometimes the replacement takes, and the team can continue along the same path, but oftentimes, especially if the team was based around one’s mercurial talents, it can end in disaster. Southampton is a fantastic example of a team that doesn’t care whether it plays the same type of football as the year before due to the massive turnover of both players and coaches that leave the club on a yearly basis. Each season they evaluate the squad that the club knows is going to stay, and then structure accordingly.
This isn’t to say, however, that building around one or a few players hasn't worked before.
Juventus' and, to a larger extent, Italy’s usage of a stonewall back three of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, and Giorgio Chiellini has proven to bring success, but when you base an idea around a player, especially one that is quite old (34), it can prove to be problematic; this is the problem that Orlando City is faced with. Kaká is the once-mercurial star that the club has chosen to build around, and it couldn't be a more ill-advised decision.
Now, before anyone has my head on a purple, Brazil-themed plate for suggesting such heresy towards the god-like figure that is Kaká, let me say that he has never been a bad player for Orlando City. His numbers are quite good both this year and last year, and he has been essential to the team since arriving.
However, that doesn't mean he’s not holding the team back.
His positive numbers are what have allowed him to become the focal point of the team, and an unforeseen adverse effect might be the delay in a switch to a more holistically centered ideal.
Orlando City’s current squad, excluding Kaká, would make for the perfect defensively centered 4-4-2, with players like Carlos Rivas, Luke Boden, and Cristian Higuita bringing the hard work and muscle, while Kevin Molino and Cyle Larin make the most of their counter-attacking chances up top, but realistically the system doesn't matter.
To give it a metaphorical value, an organization’s team that uses an idea could amount to a potential of 1,000, but an organization that centers around an individual should only amount to a potential score that is less than that. As stated before, teams that center around a specific tactical approach or idea don’t completely fall apart when a particular player, or even players, get injured, go missing, etc.
Many have agreed that Kaká's absence, though it isn't his fault, has taken away from the team, and is a major factor for City's relatively poor record. A transition away from this dependence may be one to consider under the new coaching regime.