So, the #KreisOut crowd got what it wanted and it could turn out to be the Best. Thing. EVAR! Or we could see another rebuild, leaving the Lions at home during playoff time for the next year or two. Only time will tell.
As a former public relations practitioner in professional sports (about 10 combined years in minor league hockey and the NHL), I enjoy the new terminology used today, such as “lower body injury,” and yes, “mutually agreed to part ways.” It’s possible that Jason Kreis came to management and said “Hey, I really don’t want to coach this team anymore, can we just end this?” But the likelihood is that Kreis was fired after the team’s sixth consecutive MLS loss. So, the coach that gave the club its longest ever MLS win streak — and wasn’t rewarded for it — was most likely punished for the club’s longest ever MLS losing streak.
It’s hard to imagine this happening had the team gone W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L, but whatever. It’s done and we thank Jason for his contributions to building this roster from what it was and for the good moments — the aforementioned win streak, some incredible Cardiac Cats moments, the 6-1 beatdown of New England last season, and so on. Every coach and every player is part of the team’s history and Kreis’ panel in the team’s quilt is fully stitched.
Here are five off-the-cuff reactions I had to the news. Let me stress this again...these are not fully formed thoughts...just the first things that popped into my head and I’m sure after further reflection there will be some drift from what is below.
Orlando City Leadership is Fickle
The leadership of Orlando City has shown it has zero patience. Adrian Heath was named the club’s first MLS coach and he and management ostensibly had a three-year plan to make the club a playoff team with a chance to compete deep into the postseason. Heath was given a year and a half of that three years and was let go on the heels of a six-game MLS unbeaten streak that ended with a lopsided loss in Dallas on July 4, 2016. Sure, there was also a 2-1 loss to Fort Lauderdale in the U.S. Open Cup in there, but anyone who watched that game saw a dominating performance by Orlando that night. Cupsets are a thing, and it happened to the Lions that night on PC’s stunner at the death of extra time, after the Lions had out-shot the Strikers by 20 (!) after halftime and spent nearly the whole game in the attacking half. I think Hadji Barry hit every part of the goal frame in that second half. Oh, and Heath’s firing came during the transfer window, when players who may be on the move would probably like to know who they’re playing for.
Kreis was let go with his team still in playoff position — a spot he helped lead the team to by way of that six-game winning streak. The winning streak came with most of the roster fully fit and in form. He and his staff aren’t completely blameless, of course, but the losing streak certainly did not feature an optimal lineup for most of it. Much of it was played on the road with no Dom Dwyer, no Yoshimar Yotún, and the following back lines:
- Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek, Lamine Sané, Will Johnson vs. Atlanta.
- Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek, Lamine Sané, Will Johnson at Toronto.
- Mohamed El-Munir, Tony Rocha, Chris Schuler, RJ Allen vs. Chicago.
- Donny Toia, Tony Rocha, RJ Allen, Will Johnson at New York City FC.
- Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek, Chris Schuler, Will Johnson at Vancouver.
- Tony Rocha, Amro Tarek, Jonathan Spector, RJ Allen at Montreal.
I mean, giving the mostly returned roster a game or two doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.
There Was No Plan in Place
Kreis’ departure is followed by Bobby Murphy’s second stint as the Lions’ interim coach. Orlando City announced that Murphy will serve as coach “ while the club conducts a comprehensive search for a new head coach.”
This is a different tactic than New York City FC used. Sure, the situations are different, but as soon as there were suitors for Patrick Vieira’s services, the Pigeons were proactive, worked quickly, and when Vieira left, the club reported that it would be announcing a new coach in the coming days.
Orlando went another way. Saying you’re going to conduct a comprehensive search indicates that nothing is imminent, so it’s essentially admitting to not having things narrowed down. Last time out, Kreis was hired after three matches had been played under Murphy and his first match on the sideline came after a fourth match under Murphy (who went 0-1-3 in those four). Admittedly, it was pretty quick last time, all things considered, but those conversations were likely starting to take place before Heath’s 3-0-3 run, after the team’s 2-3-5 start. It will be interesting to see how long this one takes.
The Timing is Terrible
In addition to the aforementioned return of several key players either just coming back or who soon will be, there is this: In a few weeks’ time, there will be a series of coaching maneuvers, as the group stage of the World Cup comes to an end. This will have a trickle-down effect and will likely affect the availability of various potential replacements. I’m not saying that some national team manager currently in the World Cup would be Kreis’ ultimate replacement — but it can’t be ruled out, either. But some of those coaches will likely take other jobs after the World Cup and that would free up other coaches who could be interested in MLS positions. A wait until early July may have produced better available candidates.
There are two league matches left for Orlando City in June and one U.S. Open Cup game. Those two weeks, plus perhaps the July 7 match at LAFC may have bought just enough time to either have a top candidate in place more or less immediately, or, perhaps, given the team time to regain its cohesion and eliminate the need to find a replacement.
Is Orlando City an Undesirable Job?
MLS is this nation’s top flight and those jobs will always be attractive. However, some coaches — let’s say someone like Caleb Porter — might have other options and may be patient enough not to jump at the chance to come to Orlando. This is especially true after the way the club has fired its last two managers. The message sent by both firings is clear. You’ve got from about a year to a year and a half, and then we’re done waiting and we won’t tolerate losing streaks, even if your team is in playoff position. This might seem a desirable trait from the front office but in sports it’s not all that realistic.
Every season has ebbs and flows. Atlanta recently went through a spell of one win out of four and, as much as I hate to say it, that’s the best team in MLS this season.
Will a Rebuild Be Necessary?
I’ll finish with what my first thought actually was at hearing the news. Orlando City has an enticing roster. However, it also has a number of key (and expensive) pieces who may not fit in some other coaches’ systems. Sacha Kljestan is 32 and will turn 33 before the end of the season. He was just jettisoned this past off-season by a team that likes to play a high-energy pressing game. Justin Meram is 29 and has not looked comfortable in a 4-4-2. For that matter, a 4-4-2 hasn’t been the best shape for Dwyer. Similarly, Yotún has been pretty good no matter the shape or style, but he’s shown to be an especially dangerous piece as a defensive midfielder in the 4-2-3-1.
So, enticing roster or not, the next coach may not find some of these pieces to his liking. That would necessitate a rebuild. Those realistically take at least two transfer windows and this club has shown it lacks the patience for such things.
All of these thoughts are more or less stream of consciousness. I’m sure I’ll process this more in the coming days.
This will no doubt surprise some readers here — though it probably shouldn’t — but just because I have not been aboard the #KreisOut bandwagon, it doesn’t mean I agreed with every decision or supported the coach unconditionally. My stance has remained consistent with regard to Kreis’ employment in 2018 and I’ve been saying it since the 0-2-1 start: let’s get to the All-Star break and see where Orlando City is. If Kreis isn’t getting it done by then, it’s fair to make a move.
As a writer covering the team, I was never fond of his habit of not answering questions about individual players (which was fine if they played well, but seemed taboo when they didn’t) and I especially hated the opaque injury reports we got this season.
I would have preferred a move to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 last season, as the personnel didn’t seem to fit the 4-4-2. But I also had my doubts about the personnel in 2017 anyway, it just seemed more likely to have success in other shapes. I also thought when Dom went down this year that a return to the 4-4-2 was warranted because it was the entire reason Uri Rosell was brought in and no one player seemed capable of replacing Dwyer (and that proved to be true).
I wasn’t always crazy about his lineup choices, and was surprised to see Meram in the starting XI at Montreal given his Vancouver game performance, though I’ve generally been more forgiving of Meram’s ups and downs this season than many fans because...well, look at that ball he played in for Rocha on Wednesday that Dom should have finished. He can do that at any moment, kind of like when Kaká was having one of his stinkers.
However, I do have a great deal of respect for Kreis. He has always treated me well and has answered every question I’ve posed to him with what I believe to be the utmost candor and honesty. He’s intelligent. He loves the game. These are all fine traits. They are not, however, sufficient reasons to keep him if he didn’t fulfill what management expected of him. He may have ultimately done that by the end of this season and he may not have, but, again, we move on.
So, the Jason Kreis era is over and I am neither happy nor sad about it, but I’ll always wonder what would have happened three weeks down the road with perhaps a healthy Spector-Sané partnership, Scott Sutter at right back, and Dom having worked his way back into his pre-injury form.
My hope is that the club offered Kreis up as a sacrificial lamb to PRO in order to get some relief, but...yeah, probably not. (Insert smiley face emoticon here because it’s a joke, people.)
Feel free to blast away or let me know what you’re thinking tonight.