Jason Kreis has been synonymous with the 4-4-2 diamond formation since he made it the staple of his Real Salt Lake tenure. There’s been a lot of conjecture about how Orlando City could potentially adapt to it, but as with any new manager and philosophy, there will likely be at least some minimal turnover and upheaval as Kreis tries to make this roster his own.
But what exactly is Kreis looking for in his players that makes them good fits in his scheme? After all, New York City FC struggled to form an identity with their patchwork of players, even if some were hand-picked by Kreis. Does he already have the pieces to turn Orlando into the playoff powerhouse that his RSL teams were, or will City need a major face lift before it can consistently compete under Kreis?
The good news is that Adrian Heath and Kreis have some of the same core philosophies on the pitch: dominate possession and play an attacking game. The formations might be drastically different, but fans can still expect an attempt at crisp passing and the promise of a ton of goals (RSL averaged 1.38 goals/game during the regular season across Kreis’ tenure), and a team that will try to impose its will on opponents.
His mastery of the midfield wasn’t just playing with the diamond, but how he played it. Kreis’ diamond is a narrow one, utilizing width from the fullbacks on the attack, very similar to how Heath operated. The same defensive deficiencies that Heath faced will need to be rectified by Kreis. The depth at center back will need to be improved and Kreis will have to take a long, hard look at his fullbacks.
The majority of the midfield can likely stay intact, given the similarities in style. The major difference in Kreis’ diamond is that the midfielders are a fluid, compact unit that operate in a pass-and-move system, always looking for the open spaces in the defense.
"My ideal is that those players are interchanging all the time," Kreis told Sports Illustrated in 2013.
With Orlando’s stable of central midfielders, there really shouldn’t be too much of an issue here. The three at the base should be able to attack across the midfield, defend across the midfield, and be consistent at it. Kaká, Cristian Higuita, Kevin Molino, Darwin Cerén, and Servando Carrasco will be asked to do just that. And there will likely be some trying times as the players try to adjust. Molino may have to shift deeper to accommodate a healthy Kaká, but the midfield trio needs that offensive spark. Cerén will be asked to be more active in a more advanced role, linking the defense and the offense.
Antonio Nocerino may be the player that doesn’t have to adapt. He’s finally got a coach that fits his play style. Nocerino has been criticized for his play in the 4-2-3-1, but he’s useless in a defensive pair and he’s not effective enough on offense to be slotted in as the attacking midfielder. Now, with a trio of midfielders, Nocerino’s box-to-box game could become incredibly useful. He’s always been a pass-and-move type of player, and you can read more here on his strengths and style, but it’s a move that could rejuvenate him.
On the flip side, Kreis doesn’t use traditional wingers and Carlos Rivas could be an unfortunate casualty of the coaching change. The Young Designated Player has been linked with a move to Portugal in recent weeks and he may find himself surplus in the new offense. His saving grace might be his ability and willingness to adapt into a strike partner for Cyle Larin. Kreis has traditionally played with a two-striker system, one as a hold-up player and target striker and a quicker forward to play off of him. Robbie Findley was the quintessential second forward for Kreis in Utah and was a key player in both MLS Cup runs. Rivas has been deployed as a lone striker in some circumstances in Orlando, but he’s yet to impress.
In reality, there’s not enough depth at forward yet for Orlando to run a two-striker system consistently, especially if Júlio Baptista can’t be counted on as an every-week starter. Hadji Barry could be that Findley-esque player, but can Kreis count on a rookie to contribute week after week? Barry made a mark on the Vancouver match, but the question is if he can replicate that. Larin needs the right partner to be effective, someone who can come back and collect the ball from midfield and someone who can run off him; for all of Larin’s positives, he can be the equivalent of a foosball miniature: one-footed and standing still. Larin will also need to work on his hold-up play and playing with his back to goal to make this striking pair work.
The fact of the matter is that Orlando’s core lines up with what Kreis likes to do. The transfer targets will need to change. There’s no longer a need for a winger and a striker likely becomes a priority. The overhaul should be minimal, but Orlando fans may be seeing some fan favorites out the door. But if Kreis can institute his style, he has a knack for creating a team that does not rely on stars to get results. His RSL teams did not have expensive Designated Players leading the way. Even with an injured Kaká, Kreis and the current Orlando roster have the ability to get results if the team buys into his system.