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Lion Links: 2/28/18

The season opener is rapidly approaching, MLS power rankings, Jason Kreis on the hot seat, NASL ceasing 2018 operations, and more.

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MLS: Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Wednesday! We hope your Hump Day is going well, or that you've at least started it off nicely with us here. We are only four — count them, four — days away from the season opener where I cant wait to be back in my season ticket holder seats near the corner flag next to The Wall. So here’s all the important news we have today as we quickly head into Saturday:

MLS Power Rankings Have the Lions at No. 8

Every year the MLS editorial staff comes out with their preseason power rankings, and we have reached that moment of this off-season. The Lions find themselves ranked eighth on the list — fifth in the Eastern Conference — below teams like Toronto FC, NYCFC, Atlanta United (top three in order), and the New York Red Bulls (No. 7).

Overall, I cant argue too much here. Every one of those top three teams found additional players while losing very few. Another year in the league and a playoff appearance will help Atlanta in its second season, and it should be formidable again in the attack. Having the Red Bulls above Orlando is a bit of a 50/50 in my opinion, as the Lions did add RBNY’s most productive player in recent years (Sacha Kljestan), but until the Lions perform I can’t put them too high.

The only team above Orlando on the list that is a real head scratcher is Real Salt Lake, which boasts the youngest starting roster in MLS and will need a serious upgrade in play after finishing eighth in the Western Conference.

Jason Kreis Potentially on the Hot Seat in Make-or-Break Playoff Year

FourFourTwo’s Steve Davis came up with his list of the most interesting names to follow in MLS this season. As part of that list you’ll find Orlando City Head Coach Jason Kreis. Davis brings up Kreis — now in his second full year with the club — as a potential hot seat coaching candidate that has to make the playoffs or else.

I’m sure some fans would agree with him, but I don’t. Kreis, GM Niki Budalic, and CEO Alex Leitão have had their plan since Kreis walked in, and I think he’s OK short of a major bomb of a season. With many new faces, plus injuries, suspensions, and World Cup absences, I think this will be an up-and-down year for the Lions.

The Importance of the Home Opener

The hype video is out for the first match against D.C. United and it’s heavily tied to the importance and feel of a home opener. I think the atmosphere is going to be electric and can’t wait to see it Saturday night.

As for City’s opponents, you can read here on how D.C. is shaping up to start the year. D.C. ended 2017 very well with the additions of Paul Arriola and Zoltan Steiber and continued to add some pieces in the offseason. One face you won't see — thankfully — is longtime MLS standout goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Without his presence they’ll turn to a couple of veterans who are nowhere near Hamid’s class. Hopefully this bodes well for the City attack.

NASL Ceases 2018 Operations

In a move that really doesn't surprise many soccer insiders, the North American Soccer League has decided that it will not engage in a 2018 season. Upon failing to receive a preliminary injunction preventing the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) from revoking the NASL’s Division II status, it was a near-automatic decision by the board.

As for some of the remaining clubs, during the NASL’s hiatus from competition, three NASL members — the Jacksonville Armada, Miami FC, and New York Cosmos — will be fielding teams in the National Premier Soccer League with play scheduled to begin on April 15, 2018. You can read the league’s official press release here.

Kids vs. Pros

One hundred kids took on a combined squad of Orlando City and Pride players last night in what is always a fun, community building match. Here are some of the highlights ,but feel free to head over to City’s Twitter page for all of them.

The kids tied the game 6-6 on a late penalty and are still undefeated in the competition.

Free Kicks

And on that note, have a great Wednesday! We look forward to bringing all the daily updates here as we get closer to closer to the official ending of the off-season! Cheers!