As first reported by Paul Tenorio ($) of The Athletic, Orlando City has hired former USL Lion and Louisville City FC head coach James O’Connor to be the third ever head coach of the Lions. Orlando City fired Jason Kreis on June 15 and has been without a coach since, as Bobby Murphy has been given his second stint as interim head coach. Murphy will lead the Lions through Saturday night’s match in Atlanta.
“James was our top target going into the coaching search,” said Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic in a club press release. “He has proven himself a consistent winner as both a player and coach at the USL level, and now is extremely eager to prove himself in MLS. James is very aware of the winning culture we have built in Orlando and what it will take to uphold that tradition in both the short- and long-term. We couldn’t be more excited for him to get started.”
Louisville City FC announced via Twitter and the club website earlier today that O’Connor had agreed in principle to terms with Orlando City.
“This has been a difficult decision for myself and my family and in such a short space of time. While I will be forever grateful for my time here with Louisville City FC, the opportunity to coach in Major League Soccer is simply one I cannot pass up,” said O’Connor. “To be able to build a club from the ground up and to experience the successes we’ve had in just over three years is something I am very proud of. I would like to thank John Neace, the players, the supporters, the entire Louisville City ownership group, my agent Gary Mellor, and the incredible support I have received here.”
O’Connor, 38, is a product of the Stoke City academy. The midfielder played in England from 1999 until his move to Orlando in 2012, playing for Stoke City, West Brom, Burnley, and Sheffield Wednesday. He played for the Lions in 2012, making 23 appearances. The following year he was promoted to a player/coach role and made 26 appearances as Orlando won the USL Championship. In his time with the Lions, the Ireland native never scored a goal and had just one assist but was an important player in the middle of the field and was a team leader. He made a total of 51 appearances in three years, playing 4,055 minutes, which is the ninth most in Orlando’s USL history.
In Orlando City’s first year in MLS, it was also Louisville City’s first year of existence and the two clubs formed a partnership. O’Connor became the first head coach of Louisville — then OCSC’s USL affiliate — and has guided the Kentucky-based team to the 2017 USL Cup championship, as well as finishing as USL regular season runners up in 2015, 2016, and 2017. The 38-year-old has 106 games under his belt as a head coach — all with Louisville — and has a record of 60-23-23. He also guided LCFC to this year’s quarterfinals in the U.S. Open Cup.
After Kreis was fired, assistant coaches CJ Brown and Miles Joseph also left Orlando City, leaving Murphy as the only coach on the roster. O’Connor will bring Louisville City assistant coach Daniel Byrd with him to Orlando. Byrd has been with Louisville since its inaugural year, but has known O’Connor for longer. While the Irishman was with Orlando, Byrd was part of the Orlando City youth setup and O’Connor brought Byrd with him to Louisville. The assistant coach has played for Johnson University from 2000-2004, before pursuing mission work in Africa and Brazil.
While O’Connor helped build a club in Louisville, he will be in a completely different situation in his return to the City Beautiful if his hiring comes to pass. The Lions are currently on a seven-game losing streak but CEO Alex Leitao has stated that the next head coach will primarily have to use players already on the roster — with no major rebuild — and will be expected to guide the Lions to a playoff spot this year.
“The way we are approaching this is we have the profile that we want,” Leitao said at Saturday’s press conference. “It’s very important and we’ve been telling all the candidates that this is not a rebuild process. This is the group of player that we believe (in). We believe they are very, very strong. They have to come here understanding these are the players they are going to coach.”