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Our City: The Lions Need to Solve the Summer

As the end is near for Orlando City’s less than triumphant 2018 campaign, history is telling me not to get too excited for 2019.

MLS: Philadelphia Union at Orlando City SC Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

As the end of Orlando City’s season grinds on, you’ll forgive me for trying to look hopefully into next season for a bit of reprieve. Except, like a once-too-often spurned lover, I feel just as anxious about new beginnings as I do the rest of this dreadful season.

I’ll explain. As I imagine Orlando City starting off a 2019 campaign, I envision a team with a rough year of finding chemistry and an off-season spent removing the parts that don’t work and better blending those that did. Sprinkle in some new talent and there it is! The recipe for all my off-season hopes and dreams. Come early January and I’m ready for bold predictions and a chance to refresh my Twitter feed in an effort to find buoyant commentary from a legion of amateur and professional MLS pundits ready to back my clubs’ efforts.

The anxiety comes in when I consider the script over the past four seasons — a lot of hope and an early season that seems to confirm the positive predictions. In 2015 Orlando City won or tied 10 games out of its first 15, in 2016 it was 12 out of the first 15, while in 2017 it was a slightly less promising nine out of 15. Despite a nice run of six wins that began and ended on either side of April, the promise of the 2018 season seemed to be snuffed out relatively completely in a mid-May loss to Atlanta United at home.

Each season, it seems, the Lions play with my emotions by being a very good team in the spring, only to melt into a puddle of liquified ambitions by June.

With this in mind, I’ve found myself in a conundrum — finding it impossible to pin much hope on this season and apprehensive about being much better next season, even if the Lions do start well.

The supporters understand this, and the challenges that the club has faced every summer have become a standard part of every conversational vocabulary. We know it happens, and we all have a theory as to why.

As the Lions limp to the finish line and take a long hard look at themselves; they have to put on the off-season to-do-list, “solve the summer.” Is it the weather? Is it the schedule? Is it something intangible? Is it solved through nutrition, training, psychology, or an extra day off here and there? I’ll never suggest I know the solution, simply that it seems the team has a legitimate problem when nature turns up the thermostat come June.

I’m not blaming the players on this one. They actually have my sympathy. I’m the guy who tries to convince my pick-up game to play at 6 a.m. in the summer to avoid the heat. Even when we play at 9 a.m., we all absolutely roast in June, July, and August. That said, until the Lions figure out summer, I don’t see them ever contending and I’m not sure a winning record in the spring will ever be enough to push the club through the decimating losing streaks that seem to have become an annual rite of passage for Orlando City.

A final thought, the Lions seemed to thrive in the summers during their first four USL campaigns. What was it about those teams that made the summer just another season to win games in? My hypothesis would be depth and rotation. Anyone who is honest knows that those teams were overpowering for the level of the league in those years. I won’t say winning was easy, but it helped to have a talented roster with a ton of depth. The challenge then becomes, how to build that sort of roster within the confines of the MLS legal code? Therein may lie the problem.