One win in 19 games. It’s a record that’s hard to imagine, especially coming directly after a six-game winning streak. This past week, Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor and club Vice Captain Sacha Kljestan have spoken publicly about the fans deserving more. But do they really know what bothers their supporters?
There was a lot of optimism heading into the 2018 season for Orlando City. Under Head Coach Jason Kreis and General Manager Niki Budalic, the first team experienced tremendous turnover as they strove to reach the MLS Cup playoffs for the first time in club history. After a slow start, a six-game winning streak saw the Lions launch into third in the Eastern Conference. But then came a slide of epic proportions. Starting with a nine-game losing streak, the team would only gain one win and two draws over its next 19 games.
The lowest point came last weekend when the Lions traveled to Chicago to face the only team in the conference with as few points as them. Despite what appeared to be a winnable game, the visitors didn’t seem to want to be there, with only a select few giving the appropriate effort. The lack of energy and dedication led to widespread, and well-deserved, criticism from fans and even their head coach.
This week, O’Connor and Kljestan both stated that the club’s fans deserve better than what they’ve been seeing week in and week out. Despite having the worst points total in the Eastern Conference and continually getting worse each season since joining MLS, the team still enjoys some of the largest crowds in the league.
“In reality, I understand that they’re so frustrated with us as well because it’s probably not been fun cheering for a losing team all season,” Kljestan told the club’s website. “Obviously, we’re in a very tough moment and a win would just bring a good feeling back to a lot of people in Orlando.”
While Orlando City fans would love a win over the Houston Dynamo, that’s not the biggest concern for most fans, considering that there is no hope of reaching the postseason this year. During the club’s USL era, in which the Lions won five trophies in four years, and heading into the MLS era, there was an immense amount of optimism. That has turned to apathy over the past four years, best exemplified by a tweet from former forward Justin Meram in March which said, “Drove by Orlando City fans and asked if we were gonna win… he said ‘prob not.’ Well it’s time to change the culture here! Let’s go boys.”
Drove by Orlando City fans and asked them if we were gonna win.... he said “prob not” Well it’s time to change the culture here! Let’s go boys— Justin Meram (@JustinMeram) March 31, 2018
Rather than demanding a winner, which may have been the case three years ago, the fans now want two things: effort and hope for the future. Given the struggles over the past four seasons, Orlando City fans go into each season expecting the worst. So while wins would be welcome, the fans want to be able to believe that next season will be better. So far, there has been no sign of that.
To O’Connor’s credit, he did say the right things when speaking with the club website this week.
“We will create something really beautiful here,” the Irishman said. “We know what we’re doing. We need to analyze, we need to process, and then we need to make decisions. There’s a lot that has gone on, but I can promise our supporters and I can promise everything that we’re going to get things right here.”
Some of that trust will be won back for a lot of fans with the return of Orlando City B, the club’s reserve team. The best teams in MLS feature Homegrown talent that came out of the club’s academy and through the reserve team, something that Orlando City has struggled to do. Having well-known players like David Loera, David Norris, and Raul Aguilera will help to convince fans that the club is heading in the right direction. Still, more needs to be done.
Orlando City fans understand that the team may not win next year or the year after. But to this point, there has been no hope for the future. The nearly 25,000 people who come to Orlando City Stadium every game want to see progress. They want to know that supporting the struggles now will pay off when the team is competing for MLS Cups a few years down the road. Winning now is a short fix to the fan’s apathy but a solid path forward is what will keep them behind the club.