Since becoming a professional team back in 2011, Orlando City had a very distinct culture under former boss Adrian Heath. It was a culture that was built from the ground up and won the team almost everything in the USL in its first three years of existence, propelling the club to become an MLS franchise in 2015.
However, when the team eventually did join the top ranks, that longstanding culture began to disappear. Different types of players were brought in, younger players that didn’t necessarily fit the vision that Heath had for his team in years past. So, for the first year and a half in MLS, the team struggled to find its identity until the sacking of Heath in July of 2016.
In stepped Jason Kreis, who brought a different mindset and a different approach to the roster. The first day he was brought in, he went to the training facility before that day’s practice and laid out his vision for the roster. He told the players exactly what he expected out of them, and if they didn’t adhere to those expectations, then there was no place on his team for those players.
Through the rest of the 2016 season, Kreis began to lay the foundation for his vision, but it didn't take full effect until that off-season. He sent the players home with a very strict off-season diet and workout routine that would help them be fit for 90 minutes and allow them to play the way that Kreis would want them to.
He further laid the foundation for his culture by bringing in players that have been a part of his previous teams firsthand, players who could set examples for others on the roster and could help foster the right mentality within the team. Players like Will Johnson, Donny Toia, Josh Saunders, and Luis Gil all have that familiarity with Kreis. With Johnson especially, he is a vocal leader within the team, something that the Lions had been missing since Tally Hall left after 2015.
Now, with the groundwork fully laid out, it has become obvious that the shift in the culture of the team has taken full effect. Players from the 2015 and 2016 rosters have fully bought into what Kreis has been preaching and, through the first five games, the benefits are their own proof of the process working.
When asked after the Lions’ most recent game about comparing last year’s team to this year’s, Kreis had this to say: “A team that doesn’t believe in itself, a team that’s not fit, a team that can’t withstand that type of work rate and focus at the end of matches. That’s a team typically that would not have had the right response or capability to make the right response and score the game-winning goal.”
While it is still early in the season, it is already very evident that Orlando City is a much different club in Year 2 under the leadership of Jason Kreis.