Let’s flash back to this time last season. The Lions were on a high after winning their first two matches, including a 1-0 home-opening win over their expansion “rival,” New York City FC. Everyone was excited and thinking playoffs for the first time in Orlando’s MLS history. Orlando continued to win four out of the next five and sat atop the standings at the end of April.
But do you remember where the team finished? Tenth. City took 21 points over its last 27 games. My point is that while people are choosing to freak out, I’m trying to remind you that it’s a very long season with ups and downs. How you start isn't necessarily indicative of how you’ll finish.
The Lions have yet to find their first win of the season but these early season struggles could prove to do a lot of good for the team. Last year, the wins inflated perceptions and honestly hid a lot of deficiencies. But this year will be different. You may think the sky is falling but I’m going to argue this is the best thing for the club.
Youth Gaining Experience is Invaluable
All the injuries and suspensions have led to Jason Kreis needing to find bodies at a near desperate rate. This has led to two rookies consistently getting minutes early in the year where they normally wouldn't. Chris Mueller and Cam Lindley have both been on the field a healthy amount and that’s only going to help down the road.
While neither is most likely going to be a starting selection when everyone is available, depth is sorely needed over a 34-game season and these guys are getting valuable time. Mueller has a chance to be an impact sub but has shown he lacks the skills at his young age to be a consistent 90-minute player. Lindley has had ups and downs as an attacking midfielder moved into the No. 6 role. At times he’s flashed brilliance in his passing but often looks out of position defensively.
Both these guys will be needed over the season and this experience will prove valuable over the course of the year while other rookies ride the bench. The benefits of these available minutes will prove huge in the long term.
We’ve all heard the statements about learning more from failure than winning. It’s cliché, but it’s true. And knowing the team has dropped points early will only light a fire under the guys as the season grows. They'll know they don’t have the luxury of dropping points in August and will play with a determination.
This is a different team than last year. Last year, the team got complacent. But this team has enough veterans that are used to winning, i.e. Meram and Kljestan, that they won't let their team stop fighting until the end. Losing now will put the importance of winning in their minds and we’ll see a hungry team throughout the season.
Kreis Gets to Learn About His New Team
As I talked about with the rookies, Kreis has a lot of new players and needs to see what he has on the real professional level. Right now, Kreis is able to play with many of his new toys over these matches to see what depth he has. While he’s missing many quality starters — and will eventually need to figure them out too — the depth of playing guys like Amro Tarek, Stefano Pinho, and others will prove useful as the long season drags out over the U.S. Open Cup, Yoshímar Yotún’s World Cup absence, and 31 more matches to go.
Orlando City has lacked depth since it was in MLS and this is finally not that year. Orlando has a legitimate third center back for the first time since the USL, along with multiple midfielders that can fill in. All these early minutes will only help the team jell over time.
Look, I get it. This start has been rough and I'm arguing about the silver lining. But remember that it’s a long year and even the reigning champions — quite possibly the best MLS team ever — is 0-2 on the year and no one would doubt Toronto FC is going to turn it around.
Orlando isn’t Toronto but its not the bottom of the barrel either. This tough time is going to toughen up both the team and us fans for what I still believe will be a playoff run this year. So freak out if you'd like. I choose to stay realistic and slightly positive. Failure can come with usefulness. Sometimes you just don’t want to admit it.