To put it simply, last season did not go well for Orlando City SC. There were high expectations following a number of off-season acquisitions, with many people (myself included) expecting the team to make the playoffs for the first time. Alas, after the six-game winning streak last spring, the bottom completely fell out for the Lions.
Some of the team’s struggles can be attributed to injuries, particularly ones across the back line, but there were also players who either performed poorly or simply didn’t fit as well as expected when they were acquired.
Another off-season has brought more high roster turnover and no one seems to be quite sure what to expect out of the men in purple this year. For my money though, if the team is to finally reverse the trend of performing poorer in each successive MLS season, there are three particular players that need to up their game this year.
A marquee signing last off-season, Sacha was unable to replicate the sort of form that saw him record double-digit assist numbers during his previous three years with the New York Red Bulls. Overall, he notched six goals and six assists for the year which aren’t awful numbers, but he was bought with the expectation that he would be the team’s creative linchpin.
With the Red Bulls he helped dictate possession from deep in the midfield, picking clever passes and playing teammates through on goal in the final third. While he showed flashes of that ability last season, things never quite seemed right for him. Whether that was due to a constantly rotating cast of characters around him or being deployed in positions he wasn’t the most comfortable in, there needs to be improvement. Kljestan is one of the team’s three Designated Players and is being paid too much money for the team not to be getting more from him. As he’s shown in the past, when Sacha is firing on all cylinders he can very much help a team make the playoffs so hopefully that’s the case in 2019.
This selection might be a tad unfair because Sané honestly had a decent enough year in 2018. The problem for the Senegalese center back was staying fit, as he only appeared in 16 games over the course of the season — fewer than half of Orlando’s games. He usually played well when available, but the games in which he was healthy enough to play were too few and far between.
If the Lions continue to play the three-man back line that was favored late last season, then Sané will likely start alongside Carlos Ascues and Shane O’Neill. Ascues and O’Neill were both solid performers last year and didn’t have too many issues with fitness. If all three can get extended time on the field together and gel, then they could figure to make up a strong back line for the Lions. For that to happen though all three need to stay healthy, especially Sané.
Dom Dwyer’s Backup
My final selection is a bit vague, but no less important. The supporting cast of forwards/strikers behind Dom Dwyer absolutely must contribute more than what the Lions got last year. While I’ll fondly remember Stefano Pinho’s last gasp equalizer against D.C. United on opening night of last season, that ended up being one of only two goals he scored over the course of 23 MLS appearances. That sort of production just is not good enough and it led to him being waived by the club.
The Lions went out and got Tesho Akindele, Benji Michel and Santiago Patiño in the off-season and, while it’s anyone’s guess which of those three will see the most time behind Dwyer, good levels of production will be needed if the team wishes to be successful. While Dom is always a good bet to score when he’s on the field, no one is fit enough to play every single game and the American international has a tendency to pick up a silly yellow card here and there and serve accumulation suspensions. When he isn’t on the field, the slack will need to be picked up elsewhere and part of what hurt the Lions so much last year was the lack of a consistent goal-scoring threat outside of Dwyer.
Is there someone else who you think is more crucial to Orlando’s success this year? Feel free to let me know in the comments and as always, Vamos Orlando.