It was Saturday, March 3, 2018, and Orlando City was preparing to open its 2018 campaign with a home match against D.C. United. The supporters were fervent with optimistic anticipation, and nobody could blame them as the Lions made several waves during the off-season in their acquisitions of potential game-changing talents. The match on the evening, of course, ended in a 1-1 draw; a less-than-ideal yet still acceptable debut to the season.
A week later, the Lions incurred their first loss of the season, falling 2-1 at home to Adrian Heath’s Minnesota United. The #KreisOut crowd had (already) started to rear its ugly head. A week after that, the Lions’ first loss on the road came at the hands of rival New York City FC, 2-0. The supporters’ optimism had begun to deteriorate, and though the new-look roster (that had been missing several key cogs during this junction) was only three matches into the season, some supporters began to panic. Social media was set alight by detractors calling for changes in the club’s direction (via personnel, lineups, etc.), and the general conversation amongst supporters ranged from the preaching of patience and restraint, to the calls for Kreis’ firing.
But oh my, how the tables (or conversations in this case) have turned. The final day of March, as well as the entire month of April thus far, has seriously flipped the script for the Lions and their supporters. Four consecutive wins later and the panic has subsided. The calls for Kreis’ head have wavered. The trumpeting of patience has quelled. The supporters are now working from an entirely new dictionary.
The Old Dictionary: March Edition
Loss — This one is pretty self-explanatory. Sure, the season kicked off with a draw, but the loss at home to Orlando City’s first-ever head coach and current Minnesota United gaffer Adrian Heath gave birth to the early panic in March. The following week’s loss in Yankee Stadium, while somewhat expected, also didn’t provide the supporters with much to be positive about.
Patience — This was my word of choice during March’s tribulations. With several starting-caliber players out through suspension or injury, The Mane Land staff was well aware that patience was truly vital during the first few matches of the season. It wasn’t just us, either. I heard the phrase incessantly throughout the grounds of Orlando City Stadium during those early home matches, and it seemed that the most educated and informed fanatics were the ones preaching it. It felt obvious to me. The newly built squad wasn’t fully assembled. Imagine The Avengers without Iron Man; that was Orlando City without Dom Dwyer. Imagine The Beatles without Paul McCartney; that was the Lions without Sacha Kljestan.
Chemistry — As I mentioned above, key players like Dwyer and Kljestan were missing at the start of the season. Hell, key players are still missing or working their way back into form (See: Uri Rosell). With expected starters missing, the Lions were unable to build any semblance of true team chemistry or morale. The immediate playing impacts of Chris Mueller and Justin Meram were exciting for the supporters, but their inability to line up alongside the true talismans of the club hindered their jelling process with the first team. While it could be argued that this time with some secondary Lions was quite valuable in learning their tendencies and playing styles, time with the true first team would have likely resulted in an expedited jelling process where it matters most.
#KreisOut — Really? Two matches into the season? Give the man some time to properly field his newly constructed squad. If the Lions are at the bottom of the table in October, then maybe we’ll talk.
The New Dictionary: April Edition
Win — Again, this one is self-explanatory but it still belongs in the list. A four-match winning streak has launched the Lions to the top side of the table while simultaneously rocketing the confidence level of the supporters of the club. Wins are the best remedy to a down-trending culture, and the current streak has done just that. When the supporters look back at the month of April 2018, enthralling wins will be discussed with sweet nostalgia.
Depth — The Lions have had several players emerge during April’s fixtures. The likes of established MLS stars like Dwyer and Kjlestan have displayed glowing performances, but MLS newcomers like rookie sensation Chris Mueller and 2017 NASL MVP and Golden Boot winner Stéfano Pinho have also surfaced to exhibit their value to the club. That’s not even mentioning the quality players that haven’t seen as much of the pitch as they could, like Josué Colmán and Justin Meram. The conundrum for Kreis doesn’t just come from his attacking options, but also from his defensive choices. At center back, the Lions have Jonathan Spector, Amro Tarek, and Lamine Sané; three excellent central defenders. On the right flank, Kreis gets to choose between serviceable fullbacks like RJ Allen and Scott Sutter (and even Will Johnson in a pinch, but more on that below).
Versatility — This has been my favorite word of the month. The Lions are fortunate to have a squad that’s essentially full of versatile players. Johnson is a defensive midfielder that can slot in at right back. Mueller is a striker that’s excelling in an attacking midfield wing position (that goes for Pinho as well). Yoshimar Yotún can attack well on the left flank, but he can also be a force in the defensive midfield battle. Having players that can pivot into another position at any point during a match is a handy tool in the pocket of Kreis, who can replace an injured player with a serviceable substitution or exploit a specific match-up.
Momentum — Another term that I’ve heard around the grounds of Orlando City Stadium, albeit in April and not in March, is momentum. After the team’s first win of the season against the New York Red Bulls, the Lions seized the momentum and won again with a comeback win against the Portland Timbers. It’s vital that the Lions keep this momentum going if they intend on living up to the expectations of postseason glory, especially given their propensity for starting hot and falling apart (See: 2017).
What will May bring for the boys in purple? Will the terminology be similar to that of the Lions’ April exploits, or will it regress towards the negativity of March? Let me know what you think in the comment section below.