Orlando City scored 55 goals in 2016, which was good enough for third-best in MLS, behind only the New York clubs. The Lions’ attack was the lone bright spot in a tumultuous season that saw them finish a single point out of the playoff places; it wasn’t enough to overcome their defensive shortcomings, but with the improvements to that part of the team in the off-season, things were looking up for Orlando.
But then City sold Kevin Molino to Minnesota United and he took 19 of those goals with him to St. Paul. The Trinidadian midfielder had a hand in over one third of Orlando City’s goals last year, and while OCSC received an astonishing amount of cash in return, allocation money can’t get on the score sheet. There’s still a chance that Orlando adds a replacement for Molino before the March 5 opener against New York City FC, but with the European windows now closed it’s looking more and more likely that we’ll have to wait until the summer to see a splash.
So Orlando is left with less than two thirds of its offensive output going into 2017, and while there have been several injections of new blood, there’s a distinct lack of finishing across the roster. The answer could always lie in Orlando’s main goal-getters turning it up a notch, but the likelihood of that is slim. Cyle Larin could always break through and finally hit that 20-goal mark and Kaká could finally get into double-digit goals for the first time in Orlando while keeping up his assist totals.
In a perfect world, they would flourish in their third year together and most of the goals from midfield would be icing on the cake. But realistically, losing Molino’s vision and spark as well as the transition to a more defensive-minded approach mean that Orlando’s offense will likely take a step back unless someone else can fill that void.
But there’s an issue with that historically. The players projected to be the most involved in Orlando’s midfield — Will Johnson, Brek Shea, Antonio Nocerino, Cristian Higuita, Matías Pérez García, and Servando Carrasco — only have 16 MLS goals combined over the last three years. Nine of those came from Will Johnson in 2014 alone, which is an anomaly; Johnson has scored three goals or fewer in all but two seasons as a professional.
There’s a chance that Shea’s re-conversion back into an attacking role could spark a revival to his career, but it would need to be a career year for the oft-forgotten winger to replace the outgoing Molino. Shea’s most productive year in MLS was 2011, when he notched 11 goals and four assists for FC Dallas. It’s a lot to ask of a player that has yet to even earn a starting role in Orlando. If he can continue on his upward trend of contributing to the score sheet — he had three goals in 2016 — then he could definitely be part of a platoon of players that is likely going to have to combine to keep Orlando in the hunt for a playoff position.
The biggest question marks are the contributions of the young players that are new to the league. Both Pierre Da Silva and PC have the opportunity to force Jason Kreis to consider them for first-team minutes during preseason and could take their places as potential bench options. Da Silva didn’t light up the USL scoreboards with OCB — he had two goals and five assists — but his talent is evident. PC showed his offensive capabilities against Orlando in the U.S. Open Cup, but he only managed two goals and one assist in the NASL last year. He’ll also likely be needed at left back far more often than in the midfield.
But even if they can chip in a goal or two when it matters, it could make all the difference. With the added losses of Julio Baptista and Pedro Ribeiro, the Lions no longer have a scorer on the bench to provide some late heroics. Perhaps one of Da Silva or PC could step into that role as well.
But it’s not all doom and gloom for Orlando. There’s a good chance that the Lions won’t need to replicate that 55-goal performance in 2017 to attain a playoff pace. With the amount of defensive additions Kreis has made, namely Jonathan Spector, the Lions shouldn’t allow a calamitous 60 goals again. Asking that unit to go from worst to first will likely be impossible, but a major improvement would go a long way toward providing relief to the offense.
Kreis’ Orlando City should not have to go into a match needing two goals to claim a result. There will likely still be a realistic disparity between the defense’s improvements and what Molino supplied, if only because Molino was such a large percentage of Orlando’s offense. But if City can survive until the summer by grinding out results, the club can bring in some reinforcements with its new allocation money and rectify any offensive issues that arise.
So while losing Kevin Molino’s creativity will certainly be a hit on Orlando’s firepower, the Lions may not need to entirely duplicate it. But they could sure use another attacker to help out Larin and Kaká.