I’m not going to mince any words with this column and I purposely waited a couple of days to take the emotional element out of it. It’s long (at just over 1,400 words), so you may not read the entire thing, but it boils down to this: Orlando City’s effort on Sunday was not good enough and the club’s fans and supporter groups deserve better. I felt bad for each and every fan who spent their money to make the trip from Florida to Bridgeview, IL to watch whatever that was on Sunday.
It was the kind of performance that even the most diehard fans found difficult to watch. When you cheer for any sports team, you know going in that anything can happen in any given match and even for the best teams results are not guaranteed. Your team could win. Your team could draw. Your team could lose. Your team could even lose badly. You understand that is part of the deal with sports on any level. And even with bad teams, it’s usually fine.
For many years I went to old Cleveland Municipal Stadium and watched bad Indians teams get drubbed. I understood going in that our pitchers were going to give up runs, our hitters were going to leave runners in scoring position, and there would likely be a couple of major blunders in base-running, fielding, or both. That was just part of going to the park to watch the Tribe. I still went to games because that was my team and there was a decent chance that even in a lopsided loss I’d still see some memory-forming moment of magic, like a 460-foot home run from Joe Carter, or a two-hit gem from Greg Swindell (I once saw Swindell throw a one-hitter and lose the game). You could even see one of the team’s rare wins. But, win or lose, it was still an enjoyable day at the ballpark.
Sunday was nothing like that. Orlando City came out of the locker room against a team without its supporters groups, in a dead building that provided no boost to the home side, and did not play like a team that cared if it fell into dead last place in the division. Chicago was clearly the team trying to fight and claw for points and quickly jumped all over the Lions, taking the lead in the opening moments of the match and never looking all that threatened by Orlando City for the remainder of the 90 minutes.
Announcers John Strong and Stu Holden did not hold back in describing how little desire the lads in purple were showing on the pitch and you really couldn’t argue with anything they said. Less than 20 minutes in, they stopped talking about the events on the field nearly altogether to go off on a tangent about promotion/relegation systems. I felt bad for them having to call the game. I felt bad for myself and everyone else who had to endure watching it. I felt bad for my fellow staff writers who had to recap it or hand out player grades. It was embarrassing to the club, its fans, and the city of Orlando. I was live tweeting the match for The Mane Land and I couldn’t even get angry at the announcers for their comments.
Stu Holden on Orlando City: "This team has quit for the year." Nothing we're seeing on TV would make us argue. #CHIvORL— The Mane Land (@TheManeLand) September 16, 2018
It looked exactly like what Holden said. The players on the pitch had quit — perhaps not everyone, but certainly enough to ensure that victory was never going to be possible. Holden further talked about how some players had spoken to him about others with job security who weren’t willing to put out any effort. At the start of the second half, Strong was discussing the shadows on the Toyota Park field and said that part of the stadium was still in full sunshine, quipping that they’d show us that “if and when Orlando gets into the attacking third.”
Oooh, John Strong's got Orlando jokes.— The Mane Land (@TheManeLand) September 16, 2018
Again, I couldn’t even get upset with the statement, because it had a ring of truth to it if you saw what was happening on the pitch.
The way this team has performed in recent weeks, it’s hard to imagine that James O’Connor will get any more victories on his resume this season due to a lack of effort on the pitch. That’s the one thing that is not acceptable and one has to wonder why anyone would bother going to Orlando City Stadium to watch this happen for the last three home matches if this is what they can expect.
The fans have stuck by this team through four miserable seasons, and each one has been worse than the one before. The fans deserve better and the people working hard in the Orlando City front office to sell tickets and advertising and run the day-to-day operations deserve better. And, as a former communications worker in professional sports, I particularly sympathize with the OCSC public relations staff this season. How the hell do you spin this season to the public — especially Sunday’s game?
Dom Dwyer was interviewed just before kickoff on the broadcast Sunday and specifically mentioned that the team needed to have a good showing for the supporters. The team failed, and did so spectacularly. While Dwyer was a part of the team on the field, I can’t say he was one of the ones who didn’t try. One good example of this came with just 16 minutes remaining and the team trailing, 4-0.
74' - Dom busts his tail to win a free kick to the right of the area. #CHIvORL— The Mane Land (@TheManeLand) September 16, 2018
While it wasn’t Dwyer’s best game, and he’s missed three different 1-v-1 opportunities against the goalkeeper in the last two matches, he at least looks like he’s in the mood to play. Rookie Chris Mueller is another and perhaps captain Jonathan Spector. Aside from that, it was difficult to point to any other player on the field Sunday who looked like they gave a single damn about being out there. Again…unacceptable.
I’m not saying players didn’t care. I’m saying they sure didn’t make it obvious. The drive and commitment we’ve seen in the past, even from bad Lions MLS teams, was completely absent. There were a few individual moments where you saw a player look like he was putting in effort, but those were few and far between.
In the 2018 off-season, the front office invested heavily in veteran players. We were told at the start of the season that these were noted character guys, often from teams with winning cultures, who would turn things around. We were told the team had made small roster adjustments in the past, believing success wasn’t far away, but this past off-season the club took big swings to build the roster.
Fans are generally satisfied that the club is willing to spend money and assets to bring in pieces to build a winning team. However, no one can be satisfied with the way this season has gone and no one should be satisfied with the team’s performance on Sunday. It’s fair to ask serious and tough questions of a front office that has missed so badly in trying to assemble a team of high character and leadership if this is the product on the field.
This group of players — and I’m speaking of the team as a collective here while not knowing which individuals are truly part of the problem — has already gotten a veteran, Cup-winning coach fired this season. At that time, Orlando’s front office assured fans that the club believed in the roster and that finding the right coach to guide them should alleviate the problems. That did not happen. It turns out that it wasn’t just the coaching (and it rarely is when a team wins just once in 19 games). Think about how futile that is – one freakin’ win in 19 games!
The group on the field hasn’t seemed to put much effort into helping an interim manager or the club’s new head coach be successful. When the team looks like it has checked out for the season, can the fans be far behind? Even the most optimistic fan wants to watch players who try, or at least appear to be trying. Orlando’s fan base is as demanding as any. It wants to win, sure, but it absolutely requires effort. Evident, palpable, and noticeable effort.
For the majority of the 90 minutes at Toyota Park on Sunday, no such effort was on display and it was disgraceful. Orlando City’s supporters and staff, and the city itself, all deserve better.