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Orlando City’s Jacksonville Trip Could Be Most Important in Club History

New faces got an opportunity to form bonds that will carry into the season.

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

Orlando City played the Jacksonville University Dolphins Saturday morning to conclude its Jacksonville preseason residency. While the team has stayed together for a portion of the preseason before in Sanford and Jacksonville, the 2018 trip is the most important one yet.

The purpose of preseason trips is for the players and staff to get to know each other. Staying in a hotel and traveling on a team bus every day provides an opportunity for camaraderie you don’t get when the players drive separately to training and live their regular daily lives.

The trip to Jacksonville itself isn’t what made the 2018 venture important, but the changes that have been made in the squad are. This year’s team will be without its captain, Kaká, and its starting striker, Cyle Larin, two players who have been mainstays in the lineup since 2015. After a difficult 2017 season, several players departed and a slew of new faces entered.

Following last season, Head Coach Jason Kreis stated that there would be wholesale changes during the off-season and he held up that statement. Kreis and General Manager Niki Budalic have brought in 12 new players so far. Even if they don’t make any other moves before the season starts on March 3, that’s nearly half the squad.

While many of the players have been brought in for depth purposes, some, including Josué Colmán, Sacha Kljestan, and Justin Meram, will be expected to play important roles for the team. With only 14 players returning in 2018, other additions will certainly play a part in the season off the bench and potentially be called into action due to injury.

The amount of new faces in the locker room is the most the club has seen since the early days in USL. Even when the team entered MLS in 2015, several players like Darwin Ceren, Tyler Turner, Rafael Ramos, and Tommy Redding first joined the club for the 2014 USL Pro season. Bigger names that year like Kaká and Brek Shea spent time with the team, and in Shea’s case, trained with the team prior to officially joining. The additions in 2018 are brand new to the club, with many playing at the stadium for the first time.

As anyone who has ever moved to a new location without prior friendships will tell you, acclimating can be very difficult. Being in Orlando, many of the players would spend their downtime with friends, family, or at home, leaving the new players to fend for themselves. By taking the team to Jacksonville, the players are spending time together, developing bonds and friendships. Greater importance is added to the trip given the number of new faces on the team.

Whether the trip to Jacksonville will have an impact on the season and lift the Lions to the MLS playoffs for the first time will never be known. However, allowing the new additions to the team to feel more comfortable and at ease with the existing players and staff can only be positive. The annual trip to Jacksonville is always a good way to kick off preseason for the Lions, but, this year more than any other, it was essential.