We’re only six games into the 2017 MLS season and already Orlando City looks a completely different club than the last two years. A lot of this is due to Head Coach Jason Kreis and the rigorous off-season workout regimen he sent home with the players returning from last year. However, there is an unsung hero for Orlando City who deserves recognition for all the work he has done up to this point: General Manager Niki Budalic.
Originally hired as an assistant GM back in January of 2016, Budalic was promoted to full-time GM in December. Through the 2016 season, he worked hand in hand with the interim GM at the time, Phil Rawlins, in terms of scouting and signing players. The mid-season coaching change switched up some plans for players, but the front office continued on a similar route in search of talent to bring to Orlando.
Once Budalic took over as the full-time GM, he and Kreis scoured the globe for talented players, particularly in Europe and South America. One of the goals in the off-season for Budalic was to expand the relationships with Orlando City’s club partners and to utilize their wealth of young players a bit more.
The biggest goal for the off-season, however, was to bolster the Orlando City team as much as possible. In an interview with The Mane Land back in September, Budalic said the Lions were focusing on trying to get a player or players from within MLS, as well as a few European or South American prospects. He also made sure to mention the importance of finding players for the defense, since that was the club’s main struggle the year prior.
The team ended up bringing in MLS players Donny Toia, Will Johnson, and Giles Barnes, a player for each of the sections of the field. It brought in NASL defender PC, who Budalic was able to see play against Orlando in the U.S. Open Cup. Jonathan Spector was probably the biggest signing, coming over from the Championship in England with a wealth of experience playing in the UK. The club also managed to sign veteran fullback Scott Sutter from Switzerland, who has been a boost for the Lions to this point.
Most recently, the team has brought in Leo Pereira on loan, a byproduct of the club partnership with Brazil’s Atlético Paranaense. The club has also gotten Luis Gil, a former Kreis midfielder, on loan from Querétaro FC in Mexico.
A total of 11 players have been brought in since Budalic has taken over as the full-time GM and many of them have been integral to Orlando City’s success to this point. It’s difficult to say any of them have been misses, as the new additions have proven to either strengthen the team or are still young enough to develop into assets that can augment the club in the future.
While Kreis and his staff laid the groundwork for what they wanted to have for their team in 2017, Budalic is a big reason why that plan is coming to fruition.