“There were other MLS opportunities that I wouldn’t have left Louisville for,” said James O’Connor at an afternoon press conference at Orlando City Stadium today as the club introduced the new coach to the media.
The overriding themes of the short presser were O’Connor’s affinity for a club that he called “special” any number of times and the praise he had for the quality of the players on the Lions’ roster.
Ultimately, the decision to leave his position with Louisville City FC and come to Orlando was a big one that O’Connor didn’t take lightly.
“I think obviously it’s been an emotional roller coaster,” O’Connor said. “Everything’s happened so quickly. But just real excitement when you look at the quality of the players here, when you look at the soccer club, when I look at the supporters. For me it was a massive decision but the affinity I have with Orlando, obviously coming here originally from England — the supporters — we had a great time here. We obviously helped the transition to get from USL to MLS. So it was a real exciting opportunity for me and one I was determined to take.”
“It’s my pleasure today to welcome James to the club,” GM Niki Budalic said. I know it was a difficult decision for him to leave Louisville, but from our perspective we’re very, very pleased he’s decided to join us. He’s a young and exciting coach who’s proven himself in the USL and we feel that he has the right combination of hunger and experience to join us at this point in our history. We know, and I know, that he has the passion that matches that of our fan base, of our city, and the ambition of our club.”
The new Orlando City coach, who once played for the team during its USL days, seemed eager to get to know his new players and, in turn, to get them excited about playing the game again. He definitely seemed to understand the huge challenge of taking over a team mired in an eight-game slide and get it back to winning.
“I think you have to embrace every challenge. I think anyone who knows me knows that I’m very hungry. I’m determined to get success,” he said. “The biggest thing for me is sitting down with the players, trying to establish a relationship, with the players. But when I look at the quality of the players that are here, I’m generally really excited.
“It’s like everything in life. You have long-term goals but if you look at the long-term you get a little bit confused and frightened. It creates maybe an inability to achieve it. I think what we need to do is we really need to narrow our focus. There needs to be a short-term focus and that needs to be on LA this weekend and everything needs to be geared towards training and making sure we’re prepared as best we possibly can for LA. And if we can keep getting the short-term right, then that’ll look after the long-term.”
Budalic said it was important for the club to go after someone like O’Connor.
“I think it was important when we started the coaching search to identify someone that could satisfy our needs short-term and long-term,” said Budalic. “I think with James and what we felt we needed was strong leadership, someone that was familiar with the club, and could hit the ground running to help us in the short-term. But I think from my perspective, looking at the long-term, James’ philosophy and identity definitely is someone that will build on something that we’ve started to establish.”
So how does the new gaffer get the buy-in from his new team — one that’s loaded with veterans — and get them pulling in the right direction?
“The players are going to make judgments on any new coach that comes in. I think you have to earn their trust and earn their respect,” O’Connor said. “But I think equally there’s a determination from the players to go and enjoy the football again and to get back to winning ways. So, I think it becomes irrelevant really about myself and to some extent the players. I think it’s more about making sure that we all move together and we get what we all want and that’s to start winning games. It’s a case of narrowing our focus, making sure the preparation is right, that the training is really good, and that we go and we get maximum effort against LA on Saturday.”
One thing that might make it easier to capture the locker room is O’Connor’s existing relationship with his former Orlando City teammate, Dom Dwyer. The duo helped the club win a USL championship together.
“Dom’s someone I’ve got tremendous belief in. I think he’s one of the best strikers in the league,” O’Connor said. “I think I’m fortunate that I was able to play with him and I realize how good he is. He went on that great record for us at the end with the championship in the USL and then went off to Sporting and started ripping it up there. I think when you look at Dom and you look at his attributes and his ability to score goals — I think when you look at some of the players we have, the quality that’s there — I think that the confidence is something that needs to be brought back to the team.”
Louisville City fans will be glad to hear how highly O’Connor spoke of his former club today, but he also spoke often about his deep ties to Orlando City.
“It was a huge decision, to be honest with you,” he said. “The people in Louisville are fantastic. John Neace is someone I have immense respect for.
“People don’t really understand just what this club means to me. We left England and we came here in 2012. It was a massive decision to come here. But the way we were welcomed here. The way we adapted here. We felt really welcomed by the supporters, by the football club and we have a real affinity with this football club. For me there’s a desperation to try to bring success here.”
So what kind of soccer can Orlando City fans expect? Well, fans should welcome what O’Connor had to say on that front as well.
“I think when you look at our philosophy, we have an alignment. This club has been brought up on attacking football. I think that’s the biggest thing — and it’s used to winning,” said O’Connor. “Certainly in my time here it’s always had a winning culture. But I think obviously the transition to MLS there’s been that huge desire to continue that and it’s something I’m desperate to bring. As regards will it be exciting? Will it be entertaining? That’s in my team’s play. We want to be aggressive in how we attack. We want to score goals. But equally we want to keep clean sheets and we want to win games. So it’s trying to make sure there’s understanding of defensive transition and what that entails and then making sure the roles and responsibilities are laid out and that people can get a good understanding and then act on that — making sure they do that.”
Whether O’Connor can get things turned around remains to be seen, but he seems ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
“I want to make sure we all get back on the same page, we get the supporters, we get all the players, and we really push and we get going.”
Other tidbits that came out are that O’Connor brought assistant Daniel Byrd with him from Louisville, which will be formally announced soon by the club. Also, Bobby Murphy and Tim Mulqueen will no longer be involved with the first team and the club expects to make more staff announcements.
O’Connor will lead the Lions into battle Saturday in Los Angeles against LAFC at 4:30 p.m.