Last week I devoted this space to burying the past just a bit. As the last players linked to Orlando City’s USL success have moved on, the promising USL-to-MLS transition plan officially became a failure. The transition this off-season has felt seismic with over a dozen players moving on or retiring, and plenty of new faces gracing Orlando City’s preseason training camp.
As the Lions engage this significant reboot, the opportunity is here for a player, or even a few of them, to cement their statuses as club legends.
I think a lot about the banners that have hung in the Orlando City supporter section since the inaugural game, with the faces of Jamie Watson, Miguel Gallardo, Rob Valentino, and Yordany Álvarez. These banners have the header ‘OCSC Legend’ and were, of course, hung as an homage to players who had spent significant time with the club, helped win trophies, and connected deeply with the supporters.
When I first saw these banners, I assumed other players would eventually earn their way into the ranks of club icons. Kevin Molino was an obvious choice before his acrimonious departure. Kaká’s smile seemed a more reliable sight than his rapidly aging knees. Meanwhile, Cyle Larin has decided for whatever reason to burn his bridges in his forced move to Turkey. After three years in MLS, it’s been difficult to argue for any additions to the category of OCSC Legend.
Joe Bendik has been monumental in his efforts to single-handily patch out the leaky defense. He has to have enough Save of the Week wins and nominations for them to eventually just name the award in his honor, right? Bendik’s success has unfortunately been tied directly to the club’s struggles on defense. Last season the Lions let in the sixth-most goals in the league while having only seven shutouts all season — not legendary numbers, even if his heroic effort has won him a lot of fans in the stands.
Dom Dwyer appears to be an Orlando City legend in waiting. His memorable four goals in the 2013 USL final was a herculean effort on top of a sensational half season with the club before being recalled to Sporting Kansas City. Dwyer seemed to be warming up to his return to Orlando in the games after his trade back to the Sunshine State, and the best seems yet to come.
Certainly, other players across the squad have every chance to add their name to the list this season. However, the strike against Bendik, Dwyer, and any other candidate will continue to be a lack of trophies. The chance is there for this group to come together and collectively lift trophies and make legends of any number of players.
Head Coach Jason Kreis and General Manager Niki Budalic have done a lot of work to build a team that appears, at least at this point in preseason, to be a club built in the image of Kreis in his playing days. It’s a squad more than a collection of stars — an eager, tenacious, and hard-working group that feels a lot like the one Kreis led to the MLS Cup final for Real Salt Lake.
While wins in the moment feel more important right now, this reboot has given Orlando City’s players a chance to cement a legacy for themselves after the disappointment of the first three years in MLS.