The off-season is always a busy time for MLS clubs but this off-season for Orlando City SC has more tasks the club must address than in your typical winter months. There are a lot of things on the to-do list for Orlando City CEO Alex Leitao to deal with over the next few months for both the MLS Lions and the NWSL Pride, but we’ll focus here on just the top priorities.
Let’s make it a top 10 list and do it in countdown style.
10. Re-Signing Haley Kopmeyer
Ashlyn Harris will not be starting for the USWNT unless something happens to Alyssa Naeher. Nevertheless, she will be a backup and Jill Ellis will be taking the U.S. internationals early and often in 2019. The national team players will miss significant club time this season. With Harris out on international duty, it’s imperative for the Pride to have an excellent backup. Kopmeyer is a former starter in the NWSL and showed she’s perhaps the league’s best backup with her performances last season. The Pride must get her to re-sign her new contract offer.
9. Re-Signing Rachel Hill
Hill has the potential to be a breakout star in the NWSL. She’s been a good substitute off the bench the last two seasons, bringing energy, decent pace, and an eye for goal. This year, the club will be without Alex Morgan for large chunks of the season due to international duty and Sydney Leroux is with child. It’s critical for the Pride to get Hill to sign and even that alone won’t be enough to help the offense in 2019 (see below).
8. Adding a Striker to the Lions’ Roster
We saw time and again last season that when Dom Dwyer wasn’t scoring, or when he was out with suspension or injury, there was not a competent backup option at striker for Orlando City. Stefano Pinho was brought in with the hope that the two-time NASL Golden Boot winner could elevate his game to the MLS level. His game-tying goal in his debut was a good sign but it soon became obvious that he wasn’t quite up to the task. That’s not to say he can’t develop into an MLS striker, but City cannot go into 2019 with just Dwyer and Pinho up top. Dwyer is prone to yellow card suspension, the odd knock, and may need a day or two off when he and Leroux welcome their child into the world. The Lions need another forward.
7. Finding More Attacking Midfielders for the Lions
The failure of Justin Meram to assimilate with Orlando City and the drop-off in Chris Mueller’s production after a hot start took their toll on the Lions’ offense in 2018. Mueller will hopefully take a step forward in his sophomore season, but the club still needs more options at attacking midfielder. Yoshimar Yotún can fill that role when necessary, but he’s not a true goal scorer like an Ignacio Piatti, Diego Valeri, or Federico Higuain. Sacha Kljestan is similarly not a primary goal scorer in the attacking midfield. You can have one pure distributor in that position but having two puts too much responsibility on the striker to score. It’s flawed. Better to use Yotún as a left wingback or a defensive midfielder, where he can still distribute, and add a better dual threat in the attacking midfield.
The Lions scored only 43 goals in 2018 — only the Colorado Rapids scored fewer. Goal scoring will continue to be a problem if the club can’t find at least one attacking midfielder who can find the net (and preferably two), and if it doesn’t do the next thing on the list.
6. Adding a Striker for the Orlando Pride
With Leroux expecting a child in 2019 and Morgan set to miss as much as half the NWSL season in a World Cup year, the Pride must not only re-sign Hill as noted above, but must also add an additional dangerous striker. Without Leroux and Morgan on the field, the team will be without its top two goal scorers from 2018. Hill might be ready to break out, but Chioma Ubogagu has been too inconsistent, Marta is much better suited to play in the attacking midfield at this stage of her career, and more firepower is needed. Ignoring this position of need would almost certainly eliminate the Pride from serious contender status and could possibly keep the team out of the playoffs for the third time in four years.
5. Finding Orlando City a Right Back
The biggest surprise of the off-season contract extension release was that Orlando chose not to bring back Scott Sutter for 2019. Sutter was one of the club’s most consistent performers on the pitch over the past two seasons. He was plagued with some injuries in 2018 but he finished the season strong and provided offense from the fullback position — something that no one else has consistently done over the club’s first four seasons in MLS.
4. Signing a New OCSC Starting Goalkeeper
The Lions let go of three-year starting goalkeeper Joe Bendik, who they acquired three years ago, give or take a couple weeks. Bendik’s form dipped in 2018 and both Earl Edwards, Jr. and Adam Grinwis were given opportunities to seize the job. Edwards was unable to fully claim it and Grinwis played mostly well down the stretch, but it’s unlikely James O’Connor is willing to go into 2019 with Grinwis as the No. 1 option. A good goalkeeper can be the difference between finishing above or below the playoff line and the Lions have yet to finish on top of that line. A top-notch goalkeeper is a must.
3. Building a Roster for Orlando City B
The developmental side set to play in the USL’s League 1 in 2019 has signed a couple of players, but there’s a long way to go in fielding a full roster. New OCB coach Fernando Jose de Argila Irurita has already signed a couple of teenagers and has traveled to Brazil to do some scouting, but the league will launch in the spring and there is still a lot of work to be done on one of the most important links in the chain between the club’s academy and the first team.
2. Hiring an Orlando Pride Head Coach
The Pride have been without a head coach since the club parted ways with Tom Sermanni back on Sept. 14. It’s been nearly three months, and I’m told this process shouldn’t drag out much longer, but it’s not good that it’s already gone on this long. Orlando has a lot of issues to address this off-season and the new coach will need time to assess the roster well ahead of the 2019 NWSL season in order to build the roster into their vision.
1. Hiring a General Manager
The most important task is obviously to find a general manager to replace Niki Budalic. This is crucial for both the MLS and NWSL sides, as now is the time to plug the holes in the lineup, many of which were discussed above. My sources say the club has someone in mind for this position and that the process is underway but the quicker this gets resolved, and the less it drags out, the better. The worst thing that could happen for both the Lions and the Pride would be for the general manager position to go unfilled for any notable length of time, because the club would only be falling further behind the competition on both sides.
Ideally the hire should be someone with previous GM experience and a wide knowledge of both Major League Soccer’s rules and the worldwide talent pool. This is an area where the club should spend significant money to attract the best candidates. Whether Orlando City is willing to do that or not will ultimately determine whether anything gets fixed. No half measures will do.
There you have it. Can you think of other areas the club must address this off-season that you’d rank on this list? Would you rank it differently? Let us know below.