Going into Orlando City’s game on Sunday night, I became slightly optimistic. The New York Red Bulls and Montreal Impact had both lost, which meant the Lions had a clear opportunity to gain serious ground on the teams ahead of us in the east.
Picking up three points on the road this late in the season would be crucial to the fairy tale ending we all were hoping for, especially doing it in the hostile environment that is Providence Park. Pulling off this comeback to the Lions’ season would’ve been something you would see in a movie. Instead, however, what transpired was quite the opposite. Not only did the Portland Timbers hammer City, 3-0, but the team was also completely outclassed by Portland’s pacey attack, and was shown the red card twice as well, ending the game with only nine players on the field.
Far from what I, and really any fan of Orlando City was hoping for. So where does this result leave the club? Well, with four games remaining, Orlando City is seven points below the red line, meaning the probability of making the playoffs at this point is nearly impossible. With that being said, I think it’s safe to say that as of right now, it is officially the right time to begin looking into what the off-season holds — scenarios we would like to see happen, players we’d like to sign, and so on.
Management and Coaching
We should start with Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic. Moves made by Budalic this year include the rebuilding of the back four by bringing in Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, and Donny Toia; trading Kevin Molino to Minnesota; signing free agent Will Johnson; trading Brek Shea for Giles Barnes; signing new Designated Player Yoshimar Yotun; signing Luis Gil and subsequently sending him to Colorado for Dillon Powers; and, of course, the big transfer acquisition of Dom Dwyer.
Overall, I think that Budalic has done a good job and has worked hard for this club, and I do not believe that any issues that the club has been having stem from him. That brings to the next order of business, Head Coach Jason Kreis.
It’s been an interesting season for Kreis, from storming out to one of the fastest starts in the league, to totally collapsing off the top of the table, and to now potentially finishing just outside of last place in the Eastern Conference. This was his first full season at the helm of City, and I am a firm believer that coaches and managers need time with a club to see how well they gel. In my mind, that period of time is between two to three full seasons. Giving coaches two full training camps and preseasons with players gives them a better opportunity to make tweaks to formation and to craft the best possible game plan for the team, and to make sure the game plays towards all of their players’ strengths.
I know my opinion of thinking Kreis still needs and deserves more time may be unpopular with some, but in the modern coaching world, a fair shot is very scarcely given to the manager (prime example: Bob Bradley with Swansea City), and I am pleased that it seems like the intent of Orlando City is to ride into next season with Kreis remaining at the helm for the Lions.
As we saw this year, Orlando City had some interesting things occur — Cyle Larin suspended for a DUI, Kaká injured within the first 10 minutes of the season, Matias Perez Garcia not offered a new contract, and even ‘vice captain’ Will Johnson arrested for domestic violence.
The first roster move I think we can just assume at this point is that Johnson most likely won’t be back next year, which is upsetting when you consider how much of a leader he was for the team, and how much emotion he brought to the pitch. Budalic has also been quoted as saying that contract negotiations with players will begin at the end of 2017 campaign, which is referring to players like Kaká and Larin.
Massive transfer speculation has circulated around Larin for the last two seasons. Orlando City was holding out to sell him until this off-season, as the club could potentially make more profit off a transfer due to league regulations. However, my own personal speculation is that the young striker may have potentially hurt his move abroad due to his arrest, as it shows signs of weakness and immaturity that would not bode well for the European game.
As for Kaká, that is a slightly different story. We reported last week that there are rumors potentially linking him with a move back to Sao Paulo in Brazil, which I think we would all accept with open arms at this point as the aging Brazilian international has basically been reduced to $7.2 million bench warmer. For me, in a perfect world, the club does not bring back Kaká next season, which opens up a Designated Player slot and an international slot, which could give City a good amount to work with on bringing in some new talent.
Another move that I also think fondly of is buying down the contract of Carlos Rivas so that he is no longer a Designated Player. Rivas is an extremely gifted player, and one of the fastest in all of MLS, but his production through three seasons has not been something that screams DP money to me. Frankly, every time he waves off another player from a free kick and then skies it over the cross bar, I just see the likelihood of his contract being reduced become more and more of a reality. To put it bluntly, his statistics for a forward are depressingly weak. He has 171 shots in the past three seasons and only 42 of those shots have been on goal, which is around 25% accuracy. What makes it worse is that he only has eight goals in those three years as well, meaning of his shots on goal, 5.25% of them found the back of the net. In three years with the Lions, no other City player has attempted as many shots as Rivas.
I do like the athleticism the kid brings, and over the last half of last season and into this season he has shown that he has stellar crossing ability. I just think his decision making has not made nearly enough improvements as it should have in the past three seasons. I would love for the Lions to retain him, I just think that they should do so under a standard contract and free up another DP slot.
So Who Does Orlando Sign?
That is a great question that I wish I had the answer to. Antonio Nocerino has done a great job emerging as a new captain of the club, and can most likely assume the role of central defensive midfielder, taking over for Will Johnson. I do think the most vital signing the club must search for this season, though, is another center back to pair with Spector.
Spector has been a revelation this year, but unfortunately, any time that he has gone down, the team has struggled mightily. Inconsistency from the youngster Tommy Redding (who I believe still has a very bright future with City, he just still needs more time to learn and develop), and Jose Aja, who has definitely made his fair share of mistakes this season. I think one of the Designated Player slots should be used at the center back position.
In a dream world, I would look at two American internationals playing in England. Tim Ream has been incredibly solid with Fulham in the English Championship, and though it may be hard to pry him away from Craven Cottage, perhaps a return to America — and DP money — may be able to make that happen. The other English option could be Geoff Cameron. The Stoke City and USMNT defender is starting to get up there in age, and may be interested in a change of scenery. He played for the Houston Dynamo from 2008-2012 before making the move abroad to Stoke City where he has had a fantastic career, but perhaps there is a chance he will want to go the route of Tim Howard and come back to MLS to finish up his career.
The other place I think deserves focus is attacking midfielder. Orlando has had players like Barnes and Yotun fill that void when Kaká has been out, though neither of them have played the position of attacking midfielder for any extended period of time in their careers. Barnes is more of a striker, and Yoshi has been a left back and winger/left midfielder the majority of his career. This position, though, is one that I don’t think Budalic and Kreis need to look very far to fill. One of OCB’s starlets, Pierre Da Silva, is already under contract with the club, and at 19 years old, he is fifth in the USL with seven assists this year and ranked No. 1 this year in the USL’s “Twenty Under Twenty” list. It may be time to let the youngsters run wild and see what they can do.
So basically, to summarize this long-winded article, I think Budalic has done well, I think Kreis should have one more season in charge to perfect his system. I expect Larin to be with Orlando through at least the first half of next season, and I hope that the club moves on from Kaká, looks to youth in the attack, and brings in a new center back as a Designated Player.
As I always say, I don’t think the scenarios that I have laid out are perfect, and for that reason, I would love to hear what you have to say. What changes would you make? Who would you re-sign? Would you make any front office changes? I’m open to hearing any and all criticisms, however, it is my birthday today, so I just ask that you please be gentle. But if you would like to keep the conversations going with me directly you can yell at me in the comments below or on Twitter here.