Three months ago today, Orlando City ended its 2016 MLS regular season with a 4-2 win over D.C. United at Camping World Stadium. This morning, the club returns to the pitch for its first training session of the new year at Sylvan Lake Park.
The Lions open camp with a handful of new faces and a load of questions as Jason Kreis enters his first full season with the club after signing on in the middle of the summer.
Here’s what we’ll be watching out for over the next five weeks:
- The formation has been a big talking point this off-season, with Kreis keeping his cards pretty close to vest. However, via his Q&A session with fans last week, it seems the gaffer let it be known that the 4-4-2 is, in fact, what the team intends to play in this season. But Kreis also noted that it will ultimately come down to whatever the team plays best in, which means we could see him be flexible and use a variety of formations, as he’s also said in the past.
- Staying along those lines, that brings about questions as to how the club will line up in that suggested 4-4-2. Kreis apparently said in the same Q&A session that he sees Matias Perez Garcia playing as the No. 10 in the system. This leads me to believe that we could end up seeing Kaká playing up top as the second forward next to Cyle Larin, OR I could imagine a scenario where Kevin Molino plays up, Kaká sits on the left side of the midfield like last season, and Will Johnson on the right side. Really, though, there’s too many options in the midfield that it’s going to be one of the most intriguing things to watch when those first couple of lineups come out.
- Will Bryan Rochez finally show Orlando City coaches that he can not only stay healthy, but fit enough to play and show off the immense talent that we all know he possesses? Apparently, there’s some concern about the shape in which he arrived upon returning to Orlando from his six-month loan spell back home in Honduras. That’s a major concern, if true, and surely has to mean he’ll be on thin ice after scoring a few goals for his old club while on loan.
- And man, what’s going to happen with Cristian Higuita? Is there even a starting spot in the lineup for a man who was being linked to AC Milan just last summer?
- Brek Shea is still here, too, you know. What’s going to happen with him this preseason? Where does he fit in Kreis’ plans? In a diamond, there might not be any good spot for him there in the midfield, and I mostly say that because Kreis expects his players to play defense, and Shea struggled big time defending at left back. I really think he needs to get a look up top as a forward. He always had a striker’s instinct in Dallas, during his best years, and I think he could find that again playing farther up, and more central, alongside Larin.
- The back line, of course, has tons of storylines, specifically at center back. Can David Mateos, after two failed attempts by the club to move him over the off-season, prove to the coaches that he can still play at a high level? Will Seb Hines, fresh off re-signing with the club on a three-year contract, be able to stay healthy and win the fans back with better form this season? Might Jose Aja and Tommy Redding tandem together as the back line pairing of the future for Orlando City? And this is all while not even mentioning Conor Donovan and the rumored arrival of Jonathan Spector, who could also enter the center back race.
- At left back, Victor “PC” Giro and Donny Toia join the club and will battle for the starting gig. I think it’s Toia’s job to lose, but certainly don’t underestimate PC’s potential.
- On the other side of the back line, Rafael Ramos comes into camp healthy and ready to fight off Spector (if he comes) and Kevin Alston for the starting job. Ramos struggled with his form before getting hurt last season, and I’m really hoping we get to see the same Rafael Ramos that impressed me very much early in the 2015 campaign, and ultimately won himself a new four-year contract last winter.
Here’s what I do know: whatever you think is going to happen, probably won’t. Adrian Heath was a predictable coach, which wasn’t the worst thing, but it let some players get complacent, and that’s led us to where we are now. Jason Kreis is not the same kind of coach. He’s going to reward hard work. Of course, he’s going to pick players that are playing well, but he’s also going to pick the players that give him the effort day in and day out at training. That means every spot is up for grabs, and it could be the difference between someone like Spector playing right back or center back, whether or not Higuita gets back into favor with the coaches, and if Kevin Molino is even going to be able to play for that raise he wants.
The preseason is here. Orlando City is back. Now the fun begins.