The 2018 Orlando City roster will include just two players from the 2015 inaugural MLS squad. While some of these changes have been made intentionally due to a lack of success, some key players have chosen to depart from the club the past three years. Looking at the history of the other major sports team in Orlando, it’s a potentially worrying trend.
Orlando City featured three key players in 2015: Kaká, Kevin Molino, and Cyle Larin. Just three years into the club’s MLS existence, none of the three remain with the club, with two of those players having experienced an acrimonious departure. An original Lion from 2011, Molino left Orlando following the 2016 season for more money, ending up with former Orlando City boss Adrian Heath in Minnesota.
Kaká left the club following the 2017 season, initially intending to continue playing, but eventually retiring. The most public and bitter departure was Larin, who joined Turkish side Besiktas, even before being sold. These three players have arguably had the biggest impact of any players since the club joined MLS.
Popular players leaving the city heartbroken is nothing new to Orlando sports fans. It all started in 1996 when Magic star center Shaquille O’Neal bolted for the bright lights of LA to become a horrible rapping genie. Over the next 15 years, the Magic would see stars Anfernee Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, and Dwight Howard demanding trades, with the latter two still seemingly having prime years remaining.
While popular players have disappointed Orlando City fans by demanding moves, none more difficult than the departure of Molino, they have yet to experience the level of betrayal the Magic has. But the Lions must find out how to keep the star players they bring in happy.
After all, it couldn’t be much easier for the club. Central Florida has fallen in love with Orlando City, even though there haven’t been many triumphs since the USL days. The Lions play in a brand new downtown stadium, of which most other teams are undoubtedly jealous. Despite struggling on the field, they continue to see large crowds attend games, creating a true home-field advantage.
While there have been some players that have departed, the club does have one player that may stay for the long haul, and one that could be a huge star. Dom Dwyer first played for Orlando City on loan in 2013 and, despite being displeased initially, grew to love the area. When he was traded to the club in 2017, the striker stated that he was “delighted” to make the move. He has recently stated that his goal is to become the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer, something definitely in reach for him, and signed a new three-year contract with the club.
Orlando has become a pit stop for NBA stars, a place to make your name before moving on to greener pastures. This has undoubtedly contributed to the fans’ malaise about the team, causing low attendance at the Amway Center. Locals are still excited about Orlando City and continue to fill the building across the street, but the club must keep its star players to ensure that happens.