The Jason Kreis era will officially begin Monday for Orlando City after the Lions return from taking on the Crew in Columbus.
It’s no secret Kreis is inheriting a team with some flaws, and a club that is in transition to look more like what the front office has envisioned. Kreis himself likely isn’t the only missing piece of the puzzle, and here we will look at the areas that have been substandard thus far and need to be addressed if Kreis is going to be successful in his tenure with Orlando.
It should be noted, these thoughts come without seeing the team play a game under Kreis. Who knows? Maybe he figures out how to make this team win with what he's already got.
Fullbacks: The most glaring weakness on the field this season has been the players out wide on the back line. The entire back line has had its issues, but the center backs get a pass for now, given that they mostly played pretty well last year, and the club just brought in Jose Aja.
Adrian Heath tried to cure these issues by moving Brek Shea to left back, but that experiment hasn’t yielded much in the way of results. Luke Boden, has only played in nine games and he’s struggled in most of them. Rafa Ramos hasn’t made the strides many expected him to after last season, and has been struggling through a series of hamstring issues this season.
What Orlando City should do: Realistically it would be difficult for Kreis to bring in two new players and get the back line to find enough chemistry to be successful this season. That’s a lot to ask. Kevin Alston has done a decent job taking over for Ramos on the right side, so the team could likely get away with keeping Alston there for now, and hoping Ramos finds his form again.
But the left side of the back line needs to be addressed. And while the player to fill that gap may not be on the roster at the moment, he may already be in the club's system. It might time for Orlando City to pull the trigger and sign Mikey Ambrose from Orlando City B to an MLS contract and bring him on.
Ambrose trained with the club this week, and has done a nice job as a primary defender for OCB, and at the University of Maryland he showed a nice attacking flair that would be a welcome addition to Orlando City’s back line.
Bringing up a young player like Ambrose could not only make the back line better, but it could also be the third building block in what is expected to be the back line of the future for the Lions, with Ambrose on the left alongside Tommy Redding at center back and Ramos at right back when each player is healthy and in good form.
There’s no guarantee the Ambrose would be better than either Shea or Boden, but he would be in his natural position with an opportunity to grow. And the Lions would be hard-pressed to find a better solution through a transfer, given the needs that this roster still has and the amount of time left in the window.
Center midfielder: With Kaká on the roster, no one would have thought mid-way through the year this would be a position of need for Orlando City. But right now it is. Kaká can’t seem to stay on the field consistently, as he has dealt with injuries for much of the year. Kevin Molino has filled in admirably but seems more comfortable on the right. And Harrison Heath, used once in the role to little effect, is still out with an MCL injury.
What Orlando City should do: Honestly, when it comes to what the Lions will do, I have no idea. Orlando City is fortunate in that they have a lot of players who can fill in at different positions and play formidably. But the center attacking midfielder position in Kreis’ 4-4-2 diamond formation is an integral one and probably needs a natural attacking midfielder. We know Kreis said he’s not sure he’ll switch to that formation right away, but we can probably bet that formation is in future plans, and I would bet future means this season. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about coaching it is you dance with who brung you.
Kreis’ 4-4-2 brought him to the dance. I can’t see him up and leaving that formation now that he’s here. So there are two options for Orlando City in my eyes: wait it out or bring in a top-flight center midfielder with attacking prowess.
I lean towards bringing someone in. Kaká is clearly on the downside of his career and the nagging injuries will almost certainly continue. That’s not to say he can’t play perhaps 45 percent of games and play well. He just shouldn’t be counted on as the mainstay in the position.
Though it may be unrealistic, the guy I would like to see brought in would be Mix Diskerud. Diskerud has shown the ability to be a strong center midfielder when playing that position, but given his form this season he seems to have worn out his welcome in New York and the club appears willing to move him, perhaps even eating a large chunk of his sizable salary. Kreis has worked with Diskerud when he was coaching NYCFC last year. This rekindling would give Diskerud an opportunity for a fresh start, and is a splashy enough signing to satisfy the fan base. The only backlash to this move would mean there is a ton of money being paid to the center mid position on this roster. So if it flops it could be catastrophic.
Second goal scorer: Cyle Larin can’t do it all. One of the biggest keys for Orlando City in its terrific end-of-season stretch last year was that Larin got help from the likes of Bryan Rochez and Adrian Winter in the goal scoring department. Both of those players are gone now, and while Julio Baptista has played well, he’s 34 and can’t be expected to play 90 minutes every game. The club needs to find someone who can put the ball in the net, and preferably who can play up top with Larin as the Lions make the transition to the 4-4-2.
What the club should do: Ideally, the club could bring someone in during this transfer window. A week ago I would have said they should give Bryan Rochez another shot and worked out some kind of rotation with Baptista. That can’t happen now. And that may be a good thing, as Orlando City has a player with tremendous upside, who is probably better than Rochez right now. Hadji Barry could the answer to plug this hole. Barry showed some flashes of brilliance against Vancouver in his first start last week and that was while playing out of position.
It’s just one start, so expectations should be tempered, but he could form a powerful 75-minute tandem with Larin before the youngster lets Baptista take over as a super sub in the majority of games.
At the end of all this, Kreis could plug all of his holes without too much roster movement, if these players on the roster actually pan out. It’s unrealistic and detrimental to expect the club to bring a host of new players with less than two weeks left in the transfer window, but the right moves could help player development and push Orlando City into the playoffs as the season winds down. While there are plenty of issues to address, Kreis has plenty of opportunity to succeed in Orlando.