Is Orlando City all in for 2016, or are the Lions in the position now to look forward and play for the future? There are a few problems with putting too much emphasis on either side of this coin. Allow me to explain those particular issues.
Going All in for 2016
There are a few things that really make it a must for Orlando to try and shoot for a playoff run in 2016. One of those is to maintain the soccer community growth in Central Florida created by the Lions over the past few years. OCSC needs to keep that fan base which has been so ravenous in its support of the club — a fan base that has found Orlando City worthy of that support. In this case, ‘worthy’ may not just come from the relationship between the club and the fan, but from what we all know is the most important thing in sports: winning.
So, in that vein, while Orlando City is in position to fight for a playoff spot within the Eastern Conference, the Lions need to make sure to shoot for the extra matches and keep this community engaged. They entered the weekend sitting in seventh place and on a points-per-game basis were actually sixth in the conference. The fight is still on and Orlando has the opportunity to keep moving up the conference ladder. The Lions can have a successful 2016 by making the playoffs as a 2-year-old club in MLS.
Also, arguably the most important reason why the club needs to go all in on 2016 is that Kaká is 34 years old. Now, for as great as the captain has looked this year when on the field, it has been difficult to keep him healthy throughout the year, and when you have the level of player that Kaká is on your team, you do not waste seasons.
Playing for the Future
In Major League Soccer I am not even sure what this means. In most sports, that means securing a high draft pick. But, every year, the MLS SuperDraft has less and less depth, as the league moves to a homegrown- and discovery-driven model for bringing in youngsters. Of course, there are occasionally players out there akin to Cyle Larin, who Orlando selected in their inaugural season’s draft, and that can always be a big boon to a club. But, if you are playing for the future to get a higher pick, this is not necessarily the sport or league to so that in.
In reality, playing for the future means giving Jason Kreis time to understand who he has on this club and how he wants to play. We have already seen the team starting to shape up quite a bit as Darwin Ceren has been traded for a more attacking focused Matias Perez Garcia. We may also start to see some experiments take place with Orlando’s formation. Kreis is famous in MLS for running a diamond midfield and I am sure he will need time to find out how that will play with this crop of talent.
All in all, Orlando is still very young. Perhaps the fan base needs to recognize that and understand how hard it is to build a winning franchise. That may be a difficult proposition considering how well New York City FC is performing this year, but then again we are talking about building a winning franchise, not buying one.