It wasn’t that long ago that we were talking about Orlando City heading into MLS building itself on a three-year plan based around a mix of youth and experienced MLS veterans, with the goal of being an established contender by that third year.
Well, here we are in year three and the team already blew up that plan after a year and a half, and now Orlando is all but guaranteed to miss out on the playoffs for a third consecutive season.
When Head Coach Jason Kreis took over the club last July, the clock reset on that three-year plan.
The Lions went into the off-season looking to add veterans that would at least make the team better, if not a realistic MLS Cup contender this season, and through the first two months of the season they succeeded. But then it all fell apart and Orlando started to slide, eventually out of the playoff picture altogether and now five points back with nine games left to play. The Lions’ playoff probability, according to FiveThirtyEight, is now at just six percent.
“When you start that way, you start to have visions of grandeur about what the season will entail. I think that because it creates a new level of expectation in almost everybody, yourselves included, fans, everybody,” Kreis said after Saturday’s 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew. “But the truth of the matter is is that we constructed this team this year to be a little better than last year. We didn’t go out and make wholesale changes. That was one of the options that we had and we chose differently. We chose to make minor changes, to bring in a few leaders to help this team and to improve the team bit by bit, looking at it as a longer-term process. So I think our record now reflects that a little bit.”
While the door to the playoffs isn’t completely shut just yet, it doesn’t look good for the Lions. They absolutely need to win each of their four remaining home games and hope for no fewer than five points from the five remaining away matches. They also need some of help from the teams above them — Atlanta, Montreal, and Columbus.
Realistically, the chances of all of those things happening is slim. So turn your eyes towards 2018.
The expectation is that we’ll see a handful of roster moves made this winter that see a lot of familiar faces not coming back and plenty of salary being shed off the payroll. We’ll get to that in the coming months.
But as I mentioned, the team still has nine games left and if at any point it declares itself officially out of it — which probably won’t be likely until it’s mathematically eliminated — it needs to go all in on building long-term, which means dipping into the bottom half of the roster to really evaluate what the Lions have moving forward. #PlayYourKids
When September comes around and your baseball team is 17 games back in a division race, that team stops playing the 35-year-old first baseman batting .245 who has no future with the team in favor of the 21-year-old prospect who might not be ready just yet, but who is it hurting to give him major league at-bats now?
Do that, Jason.
Play Pierre Da Silva. Is he ready to make an impact in MLS right now? No. But it does him no developmental harm to give him first-team minutes so that — when he comes into preseason camp in January — not only is he better suited for the situations he’ll face, but the coaching staff then has a better idea of what he can bring to the table.
Play Hadji Barry, if only to figure out whether or not he has a future in Orlando. It’s his second season after being a first-round draft pick, it’s now or move on. You can say the same for Richie Laryea.
Dip into the OCB pool. Find this year’s Tony Rocha and Mikey Ambrose. It can’t hurt — the results literally can not get much worse.
And because I need more points to my case, Kreis also said this about Tommy Redding and Leo Pereira on Saturday: “I’ve been around the game long enough to tell you that young center backs, that’s part of their development. They get that development through playing games.”
Building long-term means being selective with who you bring in to improve the roster — and when you bring them in — and, to this point, Orlando City has done a good job under Kreis at making incremental adjustments. But there also needs to be a focus on what can really build long-term stability: youth.
Play your kids, Jason. It’s more beneficial to the long term than it is short term, and isn’t that what this is all about?