This has been another very difficult year for Orlando City fans, including myself. Luck certainly does not seem to be on the team’s side at the moment. If you care to punish yourself, you don’t need to go far — you could simply look back at the last two matches.
Sure, we all certainly view things from a slightly jaded standpoint, some more jaded than others, but the vast majority of fans can watch a replay of a whistled foul, or critically examine a run of play and know when something is really a foul, for or against, when a player is offside, and when a player is having an amazing match, friend or foe. The main issue I think we are having right now is not only are we watching the Lions through purple-tinted glasses, but they have also been marred and scratched by only gaining four points out of the last 45 available (one win and one draw since Week 10, folks). But not all is lost.
If you honestly felt that James O’Connor was going to magically turn this squad around in a few weeks and they would win virtually every match until the end of the regular season, get above the red line, and make the playoffs for the first time in the club’s brief MLS history, well, you would have been somewhere between me and dreaming. Something happened to this club, as in that infectious spark that captured us all has dimmed. It isn’t the fact of not making the playoffs, it isn’t the losing, it is something much deeper than that. The individual contributions are very evident, but the Lions seem to be lacking that group/team mentality. In this day and age of social media, the comments sections of some social media posts would lead one to believe that all hope is lost, and this entire franchise should be abandoned.
If you take a very critical look at the club, as unemotionally as you can, you can see that there has already been change. The level of play has certainly picked up, and the players are starting to wear their emotions on their sleeves a bit more. The quality of the play has also gotten noticeably better. Once again, because of the insanity that constitutes MLS contract and transfer rules, when O’Connor was brought in, it was going to be nearly impossible for him to make any roster changes, although the club was able to move Justin Meram back to Columbus and minimize the loss on the books.
Also remember that the front office, and CEO Alex Leitão himself, said multiple times while the coaching search was active that they felt that the right pieces were here, and the new coach would have to find a way to work with them. Honestly, that needs to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind while you are typing those damning criticisms of O’Connor and the lack of movement during the secondary transfer window for the Lions. Still waiting on news of the Carlos Ascues’ rumored move to OCSC, and after the Gregory Sertic fiasco, I do not blame the club for being as tight-lipped as it’s being. When the signatures are dry, then announce.
It was going to be a very tall order to take the existing roster and just get winning. The individual talent certainly looked to be there, but it did not translate to on-field success. We can sit and postulate and hypothesize all day about why, but it is something that may never be truly known. The club seems to think that the problem was former coach Jason Kreis, so they made a change. O’Connor appears to be doing RCCA (Root Cause Corrective Action) investigations every week, looking for the best combination of players to accomplish the task at hand, which right now will be righting the ship and ending the dire state of the squad’s MLS third-worst points per game (PPG) average.
I know what you are thinking right now. You are asking, “damnit bearded guy, you said the pastures are going to be greener, but so far you have given me four paragraphs of doom and gloom and I need to know if the grass truly is greener on the other side of this.” Well, the short answer is yes, the greener pastures lie ahead of us, but they are only greener because the s#$t used to fertilize it is different.
Clubs will always have ups and downs. This club saw some unbelievable success at the USL level, but has yet to translate that success to MLS. This is probably a combination of coaching, player, and FO issues and missteps, but make no mistake about it, it is the combination of all of the above. The formula has to be right between all three to make the entire organization work as it should.
This club will probably have a few more player snafus, some current and some future. I am confident that the practices over the next few weeks, as well as lineups, will begin to show who has shown O’Connor that they want to be here, and those who does not. It will not be long before the roster work for the 2019 MLS season begins, and I am more than happy with the job JOC has done since joining the Lions as head coach. The one area that still troubles me is the front office. This is the one aspect of the club that is the most secret and guarded, and understandably so; however, it (speaking about the FO as the third head of the hydra that is Orlando City) must understand that it must work with the coach, his staff, and the players to build a unified team. This season, and the current outcry, should be enough to garner some serious reflection soon, and hopefully an understanding that family is built from within, trust is earned, and loyalty is something to honor, not expect.
I have full confidence that when the Lions are released to hunt in 2019, the grass will be green, the sky will be filled with smoke, and we will hear nothing but the lamentation of our foes’ supporters. The ride will be bumpy, so make sure you buckle up. Oh, and always remember that the grass may be greener on the other side of the fence, but that is because fertilizer comes in many different forms. Success is coming my friends, and as bitter of a pill as it is to swallow, we just have to hold on and ride this storm out, again. This one should be easier. Should be.
And I will just leave this right here: