Following a difficult 2017 season, Jason Kreis stated that Orlando City would be making “wholesale changes” heading into this campaign. The club brought in MLS veterans Sacha Kljestan and Justin Meram, along with some younger talent in Mohamed El-Munir, Josué Colmán, and Amro Tarek. Struggles, injuries, and the misunderstanding of player strengths have the Lions heading back to the drawing board.
Orlando City’s defense has been a problem since the club’s arrival in MLS in 2015. In addition to bringing back Jonathan Spector and Scott Sutter, the club brought in Amro Tarek, Lamine Sané, and Mohamed El-Munir to sure up the struggles of the defensive unit. However, injuries and the misunderstanding of one player’s strengths have resulted in the Lions conceding the most goals in MLS.
Apparently unhappy with starting left back Donny Toia, Orlando City brought in Libyan defender Mohamed El-Munir to take over the position in 2018. However, the new starting left back struggled from the start of the season. While he was strong in the attack, he failed to track the back-post run and found one-on-one defending troublesome. Last weekend, El-Munir moved up to the midfield where he looked much more comfortable and probably had his best game of the season. The result is that the Lions may be in the market for a new left back for next season.
Continuing injuries have been another problem for Orlando City in 2018. Both starting center backs, Spector and Sané, have spent much of the season on the sidelines, as well as starting right back Scott Sutter. MLS veteran Chris Schuler was supposed to be the fourth center back option for the club with few, if any, starts this year. Instead, he’s been a regular contributor to the defense and even midfielder Tony Rocha has seen time at center back. This could just be a one-season situation and the defenders could be back healthy next season, but if not, significant changes must be made to the back line.
Prior to the 2018 season, Orlando City brought in two MLS veterans that were expected to be key contributors to the Lions attack in Kljestan and Meram. While Kljestan has been good for most of the season and been the most frequent captain for the club, it was a disastrous season for Meram, whose departure was announced Friday morning. The only other forward addition to the team was Stéfano Pinho, who also has failed to impress, but came in with less expectation after joining from NASL side Miami FC. The result of Meram and Pinho’s struggles were that Dom Dwyer was the only truly successful striking option for the team, with Josué Colmán being the team’s backup.
The 2018 season wasn’t supposed to be the start of yet another rebuild for Orlando City, but the year where the club finally broke through and made the MLS Cup playoffs. CEO Alex Leitao’s declaration that this roster could win following the firing of Jason Kreis proved the expectations from the front office. However, it looks like the team will have to head back to the drawing board heading into the 2019 season, hopefully learning from the mistakes this year.