Note: The column below contains both fact and some opinion regarding Orlando City’s summer transfer window. The opinions contained herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of the entire staff of The Mane Land. I plan to present a follow-up piece once I’ve had an opportunity to talk to club officials about their perspective, approach, and activities during the summer window.
The MLS Secondary Transfer Window for 2018 is gone and the Lions have gone out like lambs. Unless Orlando City struck some 11th-hour deal that has yet to be announced — which may have happened — then the front office must continue on with a roster of players that has managed just one win in the past 14 league games.
The club’s lone addition of the summer window (at least, so far) — center back Shane O’Neill, who was announced way back on June 21 — was a welcome one. The team has been decimated by injuries to central defenders all season long and adding more depth was a shrewd piece of business. O’Neill has mostly played well in his few appearances thus far. However, it was suggested today that more defensive help is on the way in the person of Peruvian international center back/defensive midfielder Carlos Ascues. If true, the Lions will need an international slot freed up, so perhaps Lamine Sane will go on injured reserve for the remainder of the season.
Carlos Ascues is headed to Orlando City in the #MLS!Leaves Alianza Lima right before they’re set to play El Clasico this weekend. I’m sure Yosimar Yotún will welcome him with open arms. #TransferTalk #PeruviansAbroad pic.twitter.com/Vlww2eB8Ut— Diego Montalvan (@DMontalvan) August 9, 2018
Ascues wouldn’t address some of the team’s most glaring needs, which I’ll address below.
So far, all Orlando has officially managed to do in this summer window is to strengthen the Columbus Crew for their stretch run by sending Justin Meram back to his former club for essentially all of the Targeted Allocation Money and none of the General Allocation Money originally sent to Columbus in the off-season.
Little summer movement would be a new approach for the Lions. The club has been an active participant in the summer window every year in MLS until 2018.
Back in 2015, the team’s first in Major League Soccer, Orlando City was aggressive. That year, the Lions added fullback Corey Ashe on July 14, then traded away disappointing defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo for journeyman Servando Carrasco on July 20. The club added attacking midfielder Adrian Winter and center back David Mateos on July 29 and capped its business by taking a flyer on striker Adam Bedell on Aug. 6 in exchange for a draft pick. All the while, the Lions were also pursuing Paulo Henrique Ganso that summer, although it never worked out.
In 2016, City continued searching for help at center back by signing Jose Aja on loan on July 20, then swapped defensive midfielder Darwin Ceren for attacking midfield help in the form of Matias Perez Garcia — then a Designated Player with San Jose — on Aug. 3. Finally, the team acquired the MLS rights to Tony Rocha and Mikey Ambrose on Aug. 4. Both were playing for OCB at the time but each has been primarily a first-team player ever since.
Last season, the club was active once again and made its biggest mid-season splash thus far, starting with the blockbuster deal to acquire striker Dom Dwyer from Sporting Kansas City on July 25. That was followed by the signing of Peruvian international Yoshimar Yotún on Aug. 4. These are currently two of the team’s best players. Orlando then sent Luis Gil to Colorado for 2013 MLS Rookie of the Year Dillon Powers on Aug. 10.
Following an off-season filled with big roster moves, including the signing of a Bundesliga-level center back and the acquisition of star assist man Sacha Kljestan, it’s understandable that the front office hasn’t brought in as many pieces this summer and no one expected the Lions to make a plethora of big moves. After all, the club spent a lot of allocation money and likely doesn’t have as much flexibility to maneuver.
Orlando City CEO Alex Leitao addressed the media back on July 23 and clearly stated the front office believed in the current group of players and the club was seeking a new coach who wouldn’t want to come in and completely rebuild the roster. However, it was suggested that a couple of minor moves wouldn’t be unexpected. Bear in mind that Leitao’s stated belief in the current roster included Meram at that time.
Head Coach James O’Connor has now had six league games and a U.S. Open Cup match to evaluate his roster and has noted areas that require improvement, hinting that we might see some kind of deal prior to the close of the summer window.
“There’s been some initial dialogue around that,” O’Connor said about potentially bringing in new players. “That’s something that, I think, when we get back next week we can have some further discussions around that. There’s certainly been some discussions around certain positions and maybe potential players.
“There’s been some interest in our players, as well.”
But no moves were announced as the window closed.
If the front office truly believes this group of players can get Orlando City into the playoffs in 2018 the way Leitao stated on July 23, how does it explain the fact that three different coaches have managed just one win between them in the last 14 games? Perhaps any new announcements made will demonstrate where the technical side feels the weak links are located.
The holes in the roster are fairly obvious. There is no viable MLS-level secondary striker behind Dwyer. There is a gaping wound on the left side of the attacking midfield — one that Meram was supposed to plug — that has been manned of late by either a defensive midfielder or the team’s starting left back for the first half of the season. None of the recent options are likely to provide goal-scoring help for Dwyer. Scoring hasn’t been a problem the last couple of games but Dwyer has two of those goals and each of those matches has featured an own goal by the opposition. That’s probably not sustainable.
Then there’s the left back situation. Mohamed El-Munir is currently the subject of experimentation in the midfield after failing repeatedly to track back-post runs on defense as a fullback. Victor “PC” Giro has gotten roasted repeatedly, although it’s fair to say a lack of playing time this season may be partly responsible for some rust. (Still, O’Neill has looked far less rusty at center back after having had a long layoff.) Donny Toia is a defense-first fullback who doesn’t appear to fit any system Orlando’s various coaches have employed in 2018.
The reported addition of Ascues wouldn’t address those three areas at all, but perhaps subsequent announcements will. (Though the transfer window is closed, teams can still add free agents until the roster freeze deadline.)
That Orlando City failed to address any of its three most glaring weaknesses within the transfer window is troubling. If City’s front office still believes this is the group of players to lead the Lions into the 2018 playoffs — and a postseason appearance is still technically possible being that they’re the equivalent of just two games back — it perhaps hasn’t been paying attention to the last 14 matches. The front office also can’t use the excuse of injured players, because that would be hypocritical after firing a coach who had larger injury issues in the run-up to his firing.
Regardless, now that the summer window is closed, Orlando City fans must hope that the front office’s belief in the current roster is rewarded with some type of turnaround under O’Connor over the final 11 matches of the season. If not, Orlando’s “all-in” off-season prior to 2018 will be a bust.