Since Orlando City joined Major League Soccer, Brazilian star Kaká has led the Lions on the field. The Lions’ captain has all the tools to be a great leader: an impressive background, a huge amount of international experience, big-time success, and a laid-back personality. He’s doing well in his role.
However, for a team to succeed, more players should be able to make their presences felt within the roster. Head Coach Jason Kreis seems to understand it, as this was one of the first issues he worked on when he took over last year.
“Do I think that there's a little bit of lack-of-a-leadership problem on this team? Yeah, it's one of the things we identified before we came. I think some of the guys have done a good job to step forward and take a little bit more of a vocal leadership role, but we're not quite getting enough of it yet,” Kreis said in September.
In 2017, the Lions’ roster seems to have some candidates who could step up and share the leadership role with Kaká, as new additions Jonathan Spector and Will Johnson join goalkeeper Joe Bendik.
Due to their unique roles in a soccer team, goalkeepers tend to be natural leaders. They can see and read the game from their privileged position on the field, and are noticed organizing the team from the back, night in and night out.
Bendik is already an active voice on the field, but his excellent performance as Orlando City’s keeper in 2016 might make his role evolve. The 27-year-old goalkeeper’s talent is now largely appreciated by the fans, his teammates, and even his rivals, and that could boost his confidence and make him take a step up also as a technical leader. It also helps that he’ll be in his second season with the Lions and obviously more familiar with his teammates and the club overall.
Spector was signed to fix one of Orlando City’s main issues — a shaky back line — but may end up being a solution for two problems. The veteran defender is one of a few players on the roster to possess a long and prolific career overseas, having played 13 years in England, and is known for his work ethic.
As the most experienced player in what will presumably be a young back line — alongside Rafael Ramos (22), José Aja (23), and Donny Toia (24) — the former USMNT player will certainly be required to lead his teammates. Once the season goes on and he gets more comfortable on the field, it is expected that his voice will he heard a little further.
One of Orlando City’s most recent acquisitions, Johnson is a true captain-without-armband. A player with natural leadership skills and an extensive career in MLS, the midfielder could be found yelling and encouraging teammates both with his former clubs and the Canadian National Team.
Johnson can also be considered a role model, as he is a two-time MLS champion, and played in the last two MLS Cups with the Portland Timbers and Toronto FC, respectively. The 30-year-old Canadian is very familiar with Jason Kreis, under whom he won an MLS Cup in 2009 with Real Salt Lake, and he has an important role in making his teammates understand the coach’s work style. It would be really beneficial to Orlando City if some young players, such as Cristian Higuita and Carlos Rivas, could flourish under Johnson’s influence.