I know, there are still six games left in Orlando City SC’s season; meaning it’s probably a little too early to be talking about what the off-season holds. But to be honest with you guys, this season has been so damn tough that I just can’t think about this weekend’s game right now. So instead, I’m looking ahead to the off-season and raising some questions about one of the most interesting and critical off-seasons the club faces since joining MLS.
As most of you probably know, in an interview given after the club parted ways with Jason Kries, Orlando City CEO Alex Leitao stressed that the front office was not looking to rebuild the team and that whoever took the reins would “have to come here understanding these are the players they are going to coach.” Granted, that interview was given three months ago in late June, when Orlando City had won two of its last eight games (in all competitions), but was still in contention for the U.S. Open Cup. Leitao very much seemed to believe that with the right man at the helm, the club would be steadied and the results would follow.
The remainder of the season has panned out quite differently though. After James O’Connor’s first game against LAFC, the team seemed to be playing better. There was more energy, more creativity, and while the team has only won once, it seemed that things were heading in the right direction and that points would begin to be picked up as time went on. But in recent weeks that optimism has begun to fade away. The 4-0 shellacking at the hands of the Chicago Fire last week was particularly troubling, not just because of the scoreline, but because of the abhorrent performance by many of the players on the field. It appeared to me, other writers on this site, and many fans that a great number of the players couldn’t have cared less about the game, putting forth inexcusable effort in the process. We weren’t alone in that analysis either.
After the weekend’s defeat, O’Connor was quite blunt about what he saw on the field and questioned the commitment, character and motivation of some of his players. If we take that in tandem with Will Johnson’s belief that players who don’t live up to the culture O’Connor is trying to instill will be quickly weeded out, it leaves us with an interesting question. If the front office still believes the current squad of players can win, what happens in the off-season now that O’Connor seems to disagree?
Granted, it's quite possible that by the end of the season, if there are more performances like the one against Chicago, then the front office will change its mind and decide that roster change is needed in order for success. If not, that would seemingly give them a different view than O’Connor, who seems to be identifying players he doesn’t believe are willing to work hard enough for the cause.
Would there simply be a stalemate, with club leadership mandating that O’Connor try and figure it out with the players he has, or would O’Connor be allowed to build a team he believes can win? Furthermore, if another rebuild is sanctioned, who decides what players the club decides to try and bring in, and who decides what direction the club wants to take?
Alternatively, is there a situation in which the front office decides that O’Connor is not the man to lead Orlando City to winning ways? While he’d have only been in charge for a mere 18 games at the end of the season, is there a possibility that the people in charge decide that an inability to win with the current squad means his time is up?
Personally, I hope the answer to that question is no. Granted, the former Orlando City player has put out some...interesting lineups but between injuries, suspensions, and players simply not being good enough, I think he’s done the best he can with what’s at his disposal. As far as certain players being sold or traded due to a lack of character and commitment, I can’t speak for what happens day in and day out on the training ground but that Chicago game sure was concerning to me, and the season as a whole has been too.
Losing sucks, and while another rebuild means more inconsistency and upheaval, if the current squad isn’t willing to at least put forth effort on the field then is there really another choice? Certainly I think there are players that need to be held onto at all costs — the likes of Dom Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotun, and Chris Mueller come to mind — but if these players can’t get it done then what else is there to do but find some who can?
Regardless of what happens, this is going to be a very interesting off-season for the club. Barring some sort of miraculous finish to the year, this will be the Lions’ lowest point total since entering the league and the team has done worse every year since it joined. The club went all in on a huge rebuild last year and it has failed spectacularly. I have no idea what direction is going to be taken over the course of the upcoming winter. There are any number of ways this could all go down and I sure hope all parties involved think long and hard before making any decisions. I don’t know how much more of this I can take.