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Orlando City SC 2017 Postmortem

Well that won’t do. That just won’t do at all.

MLS: New York City FC at Orlando City SC Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

As we settle in for the long, dark off-season without meaningful Orlando City soccer games to watch, it’s a good time to reflect on the season that’s just passed by. Every MLS season brings with it ups and downs for the fans of any team.

Sure, we may have experienced more downs than ups in rooting for the Lions in 2017, but if you only cared about your team when it’s successful...well, that’s a bandwagon thing. These are the times that try men’s (and women’s) souls, but also the successes of the future will be so much sweeter for having suffered through these dark times.

Here’s a quick look back at a 2017 Orlando City season that we’ll never forget, but that might not be for a lack of trying.

How did the 2017 season go?

To quote Pete Campbell from Mad Men, “not great, Bob!” Orlando City started like a house on fire, scorching its way to a 6-1-0 record by the end of April to sit atop the table. From that point on, the Lions played more like a dumpster on fire, finishing the year in a 4-14-9 free fall. Not all of those performances were bad, to be fair (the win at D.C. United and the hammering of the Revolution were nice to watch and even some of the draws were well played). But it’s safe to say that songs won’t be written about the 2017 Orlando City season unless they’re written by “Weird Al” Yankovic.

What we learned:

We learned that when it rains, it pours. The team was embarrassed on the pitch throughout the year and also off of it, with two player arrests during the season as well as the not-illegal-but-still-dumb ejections from Epcot. But the main thing we learned is that even a team that looks solid at the start of the season and plays with a great deal of spirit can suddenly spiral horribly out of control.

Game that best summarized the season:

The epitome of the 2017 season was the 2-1 home loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Orlando City dominated possession (72.3%) and out-shot Vancouver, 25-7, but still managed to lose. The Lions got only four of those 25 attempts on frame against a team that had played midweek and flown across the country — and had the game-winning goal scored by a player they traded just before the season, Brek Shea.

Chasing guys down the field is a sight that we saw far too often in 2017. Let’s move on.

What went right:

For the first two months of the season the club could hardly put a foot wrong. Even in games when the Lions could get very little going offensively, they managed to defend resolutely and find a way to score a goal. The Lions also opened their new building in style, winning the first five matches at Orlando City Stadium and going unbeaten in the first six in their new home. We’ll never forget this moment (it still gives me chills):

The additions of Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, Yoshimar Yotun, and Dom Dwyer were all positives as well.

What went wrong:

Nearly everything after May 1. Orlando began to concede the first goal rather than score it, and the defense caved under the stress of needing to play nearly flawless soccer for 90+ minutes every game. City lost by three or more goals six times from May 1 to the end of the season.

Biggest surprise:

The play of right back Scott Sutter opened a lot of eyes among Lion Nation. We knew very little about the Swiss-English defender when he was signed from Young Boys at the start of the season but he played anywhere from solid to brilliant soccer in that position for Orlando City, scoring a stunning late tying goal at Seattle and adding four assists in his first season in MLS, while also helping the club’s defense in a position that had previously been troublesome. He got very little help up that right side through the season, which makes his play even more impressive.

Unexpectedly awesome performance:

The 6-1 win over the New England Revolution on Sept. 27 came out of nowhere. Sure, the Revs went down a man early, but Orlando had just been run over in Foxborough three weeks earlier and had won only one game — against conference doormat D.C. United — since June 30. The Lions hadn’t scored more than three times in a game all season and had only done that twice. No one saw a team-record six goals coming, 10 men or not. It was an island of glorious in a sea of meh.

Player who fell short of expectations:

The easy answer here is everyone. But to pick one, you’d probably have to say Cyle Larin, which is odd, considering he led the team in goals again and was efficient overall. Larin’s goal total of 12 seems OK until you consider that seven of those came in the first 10 games. His DUI arrest helped derail his season and he never completely regained his early season form.

What needs to change for 2018:

Orlando City needs to find a competent and consistent partner for Jonathan Spector in central defense. Multiple players performed well next to Specs for brief spells but then the wheels would fall off, whether it was Jose Aja, Leo Pereira, or Tommy Redding. The club must also get more attacking bite from the midfield so that the strikers don’t become stranded as they did all too often in 2017, and the Lions must get a higher percentage of their shots on target.

Coach grade:

I’ll take the heat from readers and give Jason Keis a C- for 2017. Kreis entered the season trying to change things, which isn’t easy, especially in the process of overhauling personnel that don’t fit the system. In some ways he succeeded and others he failed, but there looked to me to be a clear plan he’s trying to implement at least and it speaks highly of him that the team appeared to be willing to work for him down the stretch — the last (meaningless) game notwithstanding.

He tried to rebuild the defense and it was better for the most part, although, when it did break, it did so in spectacular fashion. The unwillingness to shift back to the 4-2-3-1 when the 4-4-2 wasn’t working — aside from a few times during games — may have cost the team some opportunities to gain more points as the subpar midfield got overrun several times throughout the season. Degree of difficulty was high but he still could have done more, and he must do more.

Overall team grade:

There’s no way to give the Lions anything other than an F here. The team posted its lowest point total in three years of MLS play. Roster overhauls are never easy, some key absences hurt at times, and it didn’t help that the Eastern Conference improved by leaps and bounds from top to bottom, but there’s no reason for this team to have fallen so far off the path it was on early in the year. Four wins over the final 27 games is simply unacceptable. Jason Kreis has another transfer window and a lot of work to do to get this team where it needs to be or ownership will have little choice but to blow it up and start all over again.