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When Can We Realistically Expect Orlando City to Challenge for an MLS Cup?

Orlando is currently 4-5-11 in year two and just hired its second head coach in franchise history. How quickly does it take for new teams in MLS to begin thriving?

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If you were to look around Orlando City SC right now, you may not really know what to make of it. You wouldn't be alone. The club just salvaged a point and scored two quick goals against the defending Eastern Conference champions (who are currently second-to-last in the conference and have played one more game than Chicago). Speaking of Chicago, they drew against them too! (Despite playing with a man advantage for nearly an hour.) The club also has a win over defending league champions Portland! (Which also isn't too far from the bottom in the West.)

The reality is: Orlando is 0-2-3 in its last five, haven't won in over a month and has scored four times in that span. Change was needed, change has come. Now, let's stand back and let something develop from this.

When we look around the league and we see how expansion teams have fared early on in their history, it comes down to the Chicago Fire, which won the MLS Cup during its second year in 1998 (the Fire hasn't been able to repeat since), Real Salt Lake in 2009 (with new Orlando Head Coach Jason Kreis at the helm), The Houston Dynamo winning in consecutive years in 2006, 2007 (2006 being their inaugural season), and last year's champion Portland Timbers are expansion teams that have won the MLS Cup. Technically, you can get into a whole thing about the San Jose Earthquakes being an expansion team, but, they won their titles before they went on hiatus and came back. So, for the sake of argument, the Quakes (at least the team that won an MLS Cup) are an original MLS team.

1998 Chicago Fire

Record: 20-2-1-12 (This is that weird period of time where MLS games didn't end in draws, they would all go to shootouts.)

1998 was a really weird time in MLS's developing stage as a league. In its third year it added two new teams: the Chicago Fire and Miami Fusion (RIP). Winning its first game in franchise history over the dearly departed Miami franchise, Chicago would lose five in a row before going on and winning 11 straight. Coached by Bob Bradley and captained by Polish midfielder Peter Nowak, the team took an impressive path through the playoffs taking down the Colorado Rapids in back-to-back games then defeating the league leaders LA Galaxy on the road and closing out the series in a shootout before taking down the only team to ever win an MLS Cup (at the time) D.C. United 2-0 in the final.

2006 Houston Dynamo

Record: 11-8-13

This is somewhat contentious as the Houston Dynamo weren't technically an expansion team. The Dynamo were born out of AEG not being able to obtain a soccer-specific stadium and moving the team. However, the Dynamo does not claim any of the Quakes' records or history, so, for all intents and purposes, the team started from scratch (just, with preexisting players and coaches.) Anyways, It would be eight years before another "expansion team" won an MLS Cup. It would also be the first shootout in MLS Cup history, as Houston took down the New England Revolution. MLS legend Brian Ching and USMNT person Chris Wondolowski both featured for the squad, as did Paul Dalglish. The Dynamo would be the second team in MLS history to win the cup in its inaugural season.

2009 Real Salt Lake

Record: 11-12-7

So, much has been made of this team lately, what with Orlando City hiring Jason Kreis and the lofty expectations that seem to come with hiring a coach that's won a title before. Nat Borchers' Achilles just gave out on him, Ned Grabavoy probably ain't walking through that door anytime soon, and Kyle Beckerman, I think actually owns large parts of Utah now (don't look that up).

In any event, RSL didn't win immediately and, in fact, only won 31 games total in their four years in the league prior to 2009. Real Salt Lake also wasn't a super dominant team its championship year, posting a record of 11-12-7. Yeah, they won the league and lost more than they won in the regular season. America! When RSL made it to the playoffs, it faced the Columbus Crew, whom it took down in consecutive matches (1-0, 3-2), They then faced the Chicago Fire in the eastern conference finals (yeah, MLS and geography didn't really go together well for a while), and defeated them on penalties 5-4, eventually capturing the title on penalties 5-4 against the LA Galaxy.

Looking around the league, expansion teams have to tooth and nail their way into finding success against the original clubs, and looking ahead to the league's expansion plans with Atlanta, Minnesota, and beyond with potential sites in Miami and Detroit, Orlando could be looking at a crowded league where success may not come all too easily if it doesn't act soon.