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Does Orlando City Need a Star to Thrive in MLS?

With Kaká gone, should the Lions gamble on another international big name?

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the last three years, Kaká was not only Orlando City SC’s face, but a true walking and playing advertising tool for all of Major League Soccer. With the Brazilian not returning in 2018, the Lions face a dilemma when working on their roster. Should they keep gambling on star power or focus on building a well-rounded team?

Orlando City added some very interesting pieces in 2017, such as Dom Dwyer, Scott Sutter, Jonathan Spector, and Yoshimar Yotún, but none of them are true stars in the league. Together with Joe Bendik and Cyle Larin, they will be the core of the team for 2018 (as of now, anyway), but who will be surrounding them?

“I would say it helps by having the cap space to add new players,” Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic said in an interview with “We have a solid foundation with the core group we have now, and we need to fill the needs around those players, specifically a No. 10, a second striker or a wide player, and a couple of other positions in the midfield, as well as at the back”.

Realistically, the Lions can go in two different directions when building their roster. One of them is going hard on the international market for a like-for-like replacement and spending a lot of money on one single player that will hopefully bring what the team needs to succeed. The other is spreading the money wisely and fixing the main issues the team has presented in the last three seasons.

Both recipes have recently worked in MLS. In 2017, Toronto FC had three stars on its roster in Sebastian Giovinco, Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley and had the most success an MLS side has ever had. David Villa’s role on New York City FC is also one that supports the idea that stars are a must for teams that have big aspirations in the league.

However, examples of well-rounded teams thriving also abound. The 2016 Seattle Sounders flourished in the absence of its brightest star, Clint Dempsey, and was led to MLS Cup by Nicolás Lodeiro, a long-time Uruguayan international who failed to have a successful career in Europe. That was also the case with the 2015 Portland Timbers, which had recently-crowned MVP Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe, two under-the-radar players at the time, as their main pieces. Jason Kreis also had previous success without huge stars in Salt Lake City.

Regardless of its strategy, Orlando City needs to be smart with using its money to build the best possible team. The team has already wasted opportunities for three straight years and with the pieces the team has already in place and the financial flexibility it enjoys when approaching this off-season, it is time to get it right.