Orlando City SC’s changes after the team’s worst campaign in Major League Soccer history started from the top as the club announced today it has parted ways with General Manager of Soccer Operations Niki Budalic.
A Canadian-native, Budalic joined the Lions prior to the 2016 season as assistant general manager, working under then-president and club founder Phil Rawlins. He was elevated to general manager in December of 2016, but his trajectory in the club ended after back-to-back frustrating seasons in which, despite several changes, Orlando failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Rawlins himself had to take over the GM duties following the failed hiring of Armando Carneiro as the club’s chief soccer officer lasted only three months and chased away former general manager Paul McDonough.
“I would like to thank Niki for these past three seasons with us and wish him the best in his future endeavors,” CEO Alex Leitão said in a club statement. “We start a new year with many projects to look forward to, including strengthening our soccer operations department for the MLS and NWSL teams, opening a new training complex as well as kicking off the season with a revamped academy structure and OCB sitting at the top of the player development pyramid in the USL League One. We welcome all 2019 has to offer with open arms and look forward to a great year with our staff, players and supporters.”
Budalic also thanked the Lions for the opportunity, which was the first managerial role he’s had in North America after he ended his playing career in 2014.
“I want to thank Alex and Majority Owner Flavio Augusto da Silva for the opportunity to work in this organization these past three years, and wish the club all the best in the future,” Budalic added in the club’s press release.
The Canadian-born former player was instrumental in building the current roster, including the signing of Yoshimar Yotun and the trades for Dom Dwyer and Sacha Kljestan. The club was expected to compete in 2018 after a major overhaul but things spiraled quickly after a six-game winning streak early in the season. Jason Kreis was fired as head coach and at hat time both Leitao and Budalic stated that the club believed in the roster and the new coach would be expected to win with the roster on hand. That was soon followed by major acquisition Justin Meram being sent back to Columbus.
Meram wasn’t replaced during the secondary transfer window and the shortcomings of the roster became obvious after James O’Connor took over as head coach.
The hunt for a new GM begins now, nearly a month after the season ended, and whoever is brought in will need to deal with an expensive roster and work with a coach he had no hand in hiring.