Preseason is a time of excitement and expectation. Speculation abounds as writers, fans, and team officials examine rosters and consider match-ups across the league. Amid all the optimism, Orlando learned this week that injuries are a reality of preseason as well.
This week Cristian Higuita suffered a dreaded preseason injury, ruling him out of action for up to a month and the start of the season. Higuita was battling for a starting place in midfield, where Jason Kreis is still figuring out the best combination to start the season. While Higuita’s injury is unfortunate for a team building up to the opener on March 5, Orlando City’s midfield is best positioned to handle injury setbacks.
But what about the rest of the roster? Can Orlando City’s roster withstand the inevitable injuries of an MLS campaign?
Orlando’s attacking options are pretty straight forward when you look back at last year’s production. Cyle Larin is the team’s most prolific scorer, and Orlando leans heavily on his contribution. Larin will, however, need some support from other attacking options over the course of the season. Either Carlos Rivas or Hadji Barry will be paired with Larin in attack when all are healthy, but can Orlando afford to rely on either player for more than a game or two if Larin is not available?
Support up front may come from midfield. Orlando can call on Kaká to play in a more advanced role when needing to add attacking depth for Kreis. Matias Perez Garcia is also a versatile option. Maybe even Brek Shea will emerge as an attacking option this season. But the team will miss Kevin Molino’s goals and assists this year. Kreis will have to find more production from within since the club has not filled the void Molino has left. Injuries will only add to this pressure.
Orlando addressed defensive questions this off-season with the additions of Jonathan Spector, Donny Toia, and Victor “PC” Giro. Spector and Toia look to be a lock to start on March 5, but PC may also find his way into the starting 11 for his first season in MLS. And based on preseason rosters, it appears that Kreis has penciled in Jose Aja as a starter.
The rest of Orlando’s returning defensive players fall into two categories: experienced and well known players — Seb Hines and Kevin Alston — and young players trying to establish themselves in the pro game. Orlando’s defensive situation affords both groups an opportunity to earn a place in 2017. The upside for Orlando is that younger players like Tommy Redding, Rafael Ramos, or Conor Donovan may take advantage of the opportunity in front of them. On the other hand, if long-term replacements are needed down the stretch, Orlando has little choice but to rely on these players.
Orlando is blessed with a solid keeping unit leading into the new season. As the last line of defense, Orlando picked up a very suitable reserve keeper in Josh Saunders to back up Joe Bendik. City also has Earl Edwards Jr. as extra security.
Orlando’s roster looks set for the start of the 2017 season. Adding an experienced defender and forward would give the roster extra depth for a physically demanding MLS season. At this point, the club may have few options other than waiting until the summer transfer window opens to address a specific need. Of course, the current roster could silence all this preseason speculation if a few players rise to the challenge in 2017.