Orlando City SC officially kicked off the 2017 season this week, as the roster reported for preseason at Sylvan Lake Park. We can expect a lot to be done in the next six weeks before the Lions start their MLS campaign against New York City FC at the new downtown stadium.
Preseasons are usually important for players to reacquire their best shape, but as this is the first time Head Coach Jason Kreis will run the club from the start of camp, it is also a good opportunity for players to raise their stock with the Lions boss.
For three players on the Lions roster, this preseason can be especially important. Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding, and Cristian Higuita had inconsistent seasons in 2016 and are looking forward to bounce back in the beginning of 2017. Here’s how they can help themselves before the season officially starts:
The Portuguese right back is about to start his third season with Orlando City. After ups and downs in the first two years, the SL Benfica product needs to make a good impression during preseason to lock down his starting spot over veteran Kevin Alston, who finished last year as the incumbent right back.
A very offensive-minded fullback, Ramos was a starter for most of his first season with the Lions, recording 25 matches and only one game coming off the bench. If his attacking game was a positive, his immaturity proved to be a flaw in his game, as Ramos was sent off twice and received five yellow cards.
In 2016, however, it was an injury that slowed him down. Ramos battled against hamstring issues from May on, and even though he signed a new deal with Orlando City in March, it seems that he lost space on the team with the arrival of Kreis, under whom he just played one match after he recovered from his physical problem.
In preseason, Ramos needs to show he’s fully recovered and also has to convince Kreis he is more mature and capable to defend than he was in the past to overcome Alston.
Tommy Redding is one of the most promising young defenders in MLS and seems poised to be huge in Orlando City’s future. However, it looks like Kreis may not think the same way, as one of the first changes by the coach after he took over was sidelining the center back.
Redding, who turned 20 this week, started 16 games for Orlando City in 2016 and had some solid moments over the year. However, only five of the starts happened under Kreis, who left the defender off the bench for the last five matches of the season.
The young defender, who is probably the most athletic center back of the Lions’ roster, showed some inconsistency in the air and that cost him important minutes in the rotation. That seems natural though to a player who has fewer than 20 matches as a professional.
With the recent addition of Jonathan Spector, it could be even harder for Redding to regain his minutes. Fresh off the USMNT U-20 camp, though, Redding can be chosen as the primary backup for the former USMNT player and, presumably, José Aja, as the re-signed Seb Hines is constantly questioned because of his knee issues, and David Mateos could be on his way out of the club.
Few players in MLS can be proud of themselves for working harder on the field than Cristian Higuita. The Colombian has been a workhorse in Orlando City’s midfield during his two seasons with the club, but is yet to convert his work rate and his numbers into productivity.
Higuita, 23, had 25 starts in 2015 and got the attention of many around the world — Italian powerhouse AC Milan was rumored to be interested in his services. His numbers were also remarkable, as he averaged an impressive 4.3 tackles and 1.8 interceptions in his first season in MLS.
However, in 2016 the Colombian was not as productive and part of that was because he was not on the field enough, registering only 16 starts. Part of that can be blamed on a hamstring injury that sidelined him for four weeks, but Higuita also did not help himself, collecting a handful of cards — he was shown six yellows and one red card in his first nine matches of the year.
Since Kreis’ arrival, he has seemed to prefer pairing Servando Carrasco and Antonio Nocerino to shield his back line. Will Johnson, one of the Lions’ biggest signings for 2017, will arguably demand some time on the field. So, it looks like Higuita will have to show more than a huge amount of effort on the field to regain his starting job.