With Orlando City’s 2018 season now firmly in the rear-view mirror, it’s time for the front office to begin to address the club’s many issues. Less than one season after a major roster overhaul, it looks like another winter of big decisions and shakeups is ahead. Head Coach James O’Connor will have an opportunity to shed some players that don’t fit his mold and bring in a few that might.
But which position groups need the most attention? With a laundry list of issues that resulted in a club-worst 28 points in an MLS season there won’t be any quick fix. But here are three spots O’Connor should probably start with:
Just a year after bringing in Sacha Kljestan, Josué Colmán, Justin Meram, and Chris Mueller, this group looks like it needs a face lift in a few areas and a major overhaul in others. Meram’s issues were well-documented during his short time here, and he was never replaced after his departure near the end of the summer window.
Colmán understandably wasn’t ready to contribute at a high level yet and Mueller — who played a whopping 2,056 minutes in his first season — is understandably not consistent enough to be a full-time starter. Both players can be assets off the bench next season, but if Orlando truly wants to compete, those two can’t be expected to be major contributors until they prove otherwise. That means bringing in a proven, impact signing or two and ideally someone to help take the goal-scoring load off Dom Dwyer’s shoulders. Yoshimar Yotun could potentially be a fit here, but that just shifts the hole to central midfield and doesn’t solve the goal drought.
Kljestan is an interesting case. If O’Connor wants to continue with the 3-4-3 he employed at the end of the season, Kljestan is a square peg for a round hole. He definitely still has something to offer; he can score, he can create, and he’s currently Orlando’s best option with direct free kicks. But can O’Connor’s offense — and Kljestan himself — be truly effective with Sacha on the wing? If the answer is no, would a team that has a need for Kljestan be willing to take on his $1.1 million salary?
The good news for Orlando is that there’s already adequate, young depth on the roster capable of making an impression on a match. But the starting lineup desperately needs some new blood injected up front.
Joe Bendik’s performance fell off a cliff in 2018. The veteran was benched not once, but twice for keepers previously untested in MLS. And what’s worse for Joe, Earl Edwards Jr. and Adam Grinwis performed about as well he did, if not better. Grinwis took up the mantle of starter for the home stretch but he proved he has some of his own flaws. At 26, he has some room to grow but how much can he realistically improve? Having the former Rochester Rhinos and Saint Louis FC keeper between the pipes full time might work out, but it’s a risk that might not be worth taking.
Bendik is expensive for a backup in MLS (he received $189,083.40 in guaranteed money this season, according to the MLS Players Union). With how important it is to maximize cap space in this league, it’s time to move him on. With Grinwis’ ascension, the bell is also tolling for Edwards, who has been with the club since he was drafted out of UCLA in 2015. It seems as though he won’t ever take the top spot for the Lions and it may be best for everyone if he got a change of scenery. That would likely mean Orlando is shopping for not one, but two keepers this off-season, unless it keeps only two.
The Lions have a lot of issues, and it might seem strange not to have a defensive outfield position on this list after City set a new record for goals conceded. But Orlando has a plethora of central defenders, defensive midfielders, and fullbacks, all of whom have shown they are capable of contributing something. It’s less of an issue of personnel and more scheme and continuity. There were signs of life on the defensive end as the season came to a close.
Striker, on the other hand, needs several tweaks. Stefano Pinho was underwhelming after all of his plaudits coming into the year. Having only two strikers on the roster also caused issues when neither was available and Colmán was asked to step in and play out of position. Because Pinho can’t be relied upon to contribute consistently, Orlando needs a more reliable option behind Dwyer, likely from within the league or abroad. Should Pinho prove to be surplus to requirements, again Orlando would find itself in a situation of needing to find multiple center forwards to fill the gaps.
Defense wins championships, but goals win games. Orlando needs to worry about the latter well before the former. The attack can’t be impotent every time Dwyer needs a breather.
It’s not going to be an easy off-season for the Lions after a dismal 2018 campaign. With several holes to fill and a new style of play to get accustomed to, 2019 could yet be a work in progress.