The last time Orlando City won in MLS league play was on Sunday, May 6, against Real Salt Lake, a 3-1 home affair that saw former head coach Jason Kreis’ side extend its winning streak at the time to six, a club record. That was exactly two months ago today. Eight straight losses later, the Lions are about to begin a new journey under a new head coach, James O’Connor.
His first test? Not an easy one as his newly acquired Lions travel to the West Coast to play Los Angeles FC in Banc of California Stadium. What should supporters be looking for in their new head coach? Aside from his personal style and preferences, what can the supporters take away from O’Connor’s first match in charge of the Lions?
Here are three key things to keep an eye on as OCSC challenges LAFC under a new head coach.
Starting XI and Formation
A new head coach in his first match in charge can be a real wild card when it comes to lineup predictions, especially given the obvious need for change. The first indication of the style of play O’Connor wants his squad to follow will be provided via the team sheet and announcement of the starting lineup. Will he shift from the Bobby Murphy-favored 3-4-3 for a 3-5-2? Maybe he’ll favor a back line of four and the supporters will see a 4-4-2, 4-5-1, 4-2-3-1, or a shape of that sort. Regardless, everyone will be dying to see any potential shakeups. Anybody can be deployed anywhere at this point in time (not really...but you know what I mean), so O’Connor could truly test things here in his first match at the helm of the Lions. The starting XI, while still likely experimental, could also provide some insight into who has impressed O’Connor most during training and during his time possibly reviewing footage from previous matches.
Player Usage and Substitutions
Once the starting XI has been set, the next thing supporters will want to keep a keen eye on is how the players are interacting together on the pitch. O’Connor is responsible for putting the players in the best positions to succeed, and while the installation of his plans may take time, these early minutes will again provide an early indicator in how well received his tactics have been by the squad.
Is the play positive and are players in positions they prefer and excel in? Great! Is the play negative or is Sacha Kljestan playing striker? Not great. While the latter scenario is beyond unlikely, I use it as an extreme example of the importance of a coach deploying his players correctly. Hopefully, we’ll see a team that is meshing well, regardless of what type of tactic has been inserted into the game plan. Again, this is still only O’Connor’s first official match in charge of the club, but his player usage will provide interesting insight into his future plans. His substitutions, both the players swapping as well as the timing of the changes, will be another compelling aspect to keep an eye on. Who impressed in training? Who’s done enough to earn minutes in the new head coach’s debut? These changes, while still potentially tactical and situational to the match at hand, could again provide insight into who has impressed O’Connor during his first few days behind the wheel.
Sideline Presence, Attire, and Reactions to the Match
I’m not too familiar with how O’Connor dressed and acted during his Louisville City FC days, but I don’t think that knowledge would be too helpful anyway since Orlando City SC is a step up in terms of coaching jobs. How O’Connor presents himself from the start will have the eyes of all OCSC players, staff, and supporters on him. Will he wear a suit? Slacks and polo? Menial, but still something to watch for.
Meanwhile, the way O’Connor reacts to his team’s play and the officiating will also cause all eyes to be on the new man in charge. Is he a calm, level-headed leader, or a hot head that’s not afraid of confrontation or calling out officials in post-match press conferences? His overall presence and influence from the sideline will be something to keep an eye on.
Well folks, I can’t wait for tomorrow’s action. Will O’Connor’s debut in Los Angeles put the things right to correct the ship? There’s going to be a lot to keep an eye on in his debut and I’ll personally be watching his every step — in support. Tomorrow’s going to be interesting. Let’s just hope O’Connor has what it takes to make the first step forward in what seems to be a very difficult seat to hold down.