Orlando City SC finally ended its head coach searching saga on Friday when the club announced the hiring of James O’Connor for the position. O’Connor’s choice has not been unanimously accepted by the Lions’ supporters as some portions of the club’s fan base are not entirely convinced he has the credentials to be in charge of the team.
At 38 years old, O’Connor has obviously a modest resume when compared to the likes of Luiz Felipe Scolari or Caleb Porter, who were both rumored as candidates for the job, but some elements on his coaching profile indicate he might be just the right choice for the Lions.
If it will work or not, only time will tell, but there are some reasons to believe in O’Connor’s success with Orlando City.
1. His coaching career is on the rise.
O’Connor’s coaching career might be limited to three and half seasons in the United Soccer League (USL), but it’s certainly been trending upwards. In 2015 and 2016, his first two seasons at the helm of Louisville City FC, he took the team to the Eastern Conference finals and only lost to the eventual champions on both occasions. Last season, the Kentucky franchise went all way to the top, winning USL Cup. During the three seasons, the team finished in the league’s top two clubs in goal scoring.
“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,” Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic said in a club statement.
Again, that’s probably not much compared to what Scolari and even Porter accomplished in their careers, but the Brazilian’s last notable stint happened when he coached Portugal back in 2008, while the Timbers had been a very inconsistent team with Porter, sandwiching a season when they missed the playoffs in 2016 between their 2015 MLS Cup campaign and their 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals appearance. However, the momentum is on his side.
2. It’s the opportunity of his life.
A coach with positive energy and willingness to work with the pieces Orlando City currently has is certainly something the Lions could use now as the team is going through a tough moment in the season and that’s definitely what one could expect from O’Connor, who is more likely than not to be jumping into the biggest opportunity of his career.
“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,” he said in the Louisville City FC press release that announced his departure.
His motivation is sky-high with the opportunity and to be successful he needs to infect the roster with his energy. It’s hard to imagine, on the other hand, a scenario where a veteran, renewed coach would be able to motivate themselves, let alone the players, with the objective of advancing to the postseason.
3. He knows the club.
Of course that’s not by any means a guarantee of success, as Adrian Heath showed, but the fact that O’Connor knows Orlando City is definitely a positive of his choice. The Irishman not only retired for the club after playing from 2012 to 2014 and being part of the team’s 2013 USL Cup-winning roster, but also was a player-coach under Heath during his last two seasons.
It’s granted that Orlando City changed a lot as an organization since O’Connor’s departure in 2015, but it’s still the same club and the simple fact that he’s a known face should open some doors and buy him some extra time to show his work. Also, his connections with the Lions are arguably as deep as any other candidate’s and having a head coach with a positive background is certainly an asset.
“He’s the right type of character to galvanize the whole club and the right guy to get them back to where they belong,” former Orlando City player Anthony Pulis, who played with O’Connor, told ProSoccerUSA.com.