It is finally here, everyone. Preseason for the 2019 MLS season begins tomorrow. Clubs and players are checking in, checking fitness, and checking out new teammates, new coaches, and new surroundings. As clubs converge to begin the daunting task of prepping for the opening whistle in early March, what can you expect to happen over the month and a half, and what level of expectation should you have?
I am not here to tell you what you should expect, but I will certainly use this platform to tell you what expectations I have.
First, let’s run through a really quick review of what we know right now:
- The Lions have up to 30 roster slots to fill. Currently, the Lions are showing 24 players signed to the first team with a breakdown of:
Six internationals (Carlos Ascues, Josue Colman, Seba Mendez, Oriol Rosell, Lamine Sane, and new signing Ryan).
Three Designated Players (Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan, and Josue Colman).
Three Homegrown Players (Cameron Lindley, Mason Stajduhar, and Benji Michel).
- New Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, who has only been on the job a short time, certainly seems to be helping to make big moves for the club. Understand that “big moves” is an open statement that does not contain commentary trying to convince you of merit. It is simply a statement of the level of change being presented, and the grade for these moves will be given shortly.
- The public will be given access to some preseason activity during the inaugural Orlando City Invitational. Fans will get see preseason matches against two Eastern Conference rivals in New York City FC and the New England Revolution. This is in stark contrast to previous years where almost all of preseason was behind closed doors.
I cannot fathom that the roster is complete, but I could also be completely wrong. I have had some trouble predicting and guessing what the Lions have been thinking this off season, and with Muzzi joining the front office, it has gotten even harder to guess at short-term moves. I think we all know what to expect in the long term, it is the short-term moves to get to that system we all expect that have some people baffled. I would fully expect a few more dramatic moves in the next few months, possibly one big name moving in, and some interesting decisions happening to solve the current Designated Player issues that many of us believe the team has.
The past few seasons, the team has come out of the starting blocks on fire, then melted as the summer heat set in. I don’t think anyone has been able to determine the reason why, be it a conditioning issue, teams adapting faster than City can react, or something more sinister. My expectation this season will be something that may be even more difficult for some to bear. I fully expect this season to start very slowly as this group of new and returning players learn how to play with each other. I expect to see some wild starting XIs and formations used in preseason to truly push and find out exactly where these players stand. It will take time for this group to jell, but this group may also have the best chance of truly finding rhythm. It is going to be slow and a mental test for all, and I am level setting my expectations accordingly.
This is going to be the most emotional season to date. I can break this down quite simply for you: four years in MLS, never made the playoffs, finished further away from the red line every season, and let’s not forget a third coach and a rotating cast of characters in the front office. I will also reference what we have all watched with our newest neighbor to the north, the club we play during rivalry weeks, and what they have accomplished in two years. The front office will need to return to the style and level of communication that the club had in the USL days. Outreach and working with the fan base through what is bound to be a difficult season is not only needed, but in this case is absolutely warranted. Opening up some preseason time is a great first step.
Now that some of the difficult expectations are out of the way, I still fully expect this season to be “fun.” Through thick and thin, this is the club I choose to follow, and I will make sure to enjoy every minute of it. As difficult as it to bear sometimes, this club has helped me to form some unbelievable memories, some amazing friendships, and has gotten me into some shenanigans that may haunt me if I ever decide to run for president. I have the highest of expectations that I will never loose faith in City, even though I may step out in my front yard with a dram of whisky and shake my fist at the clouds.
What expectations do you have for the coming season? It is no secret that I am pretty positive person, even in the darkness that has been our collective fan lives lately, but I am feeling a bit more cautiously optimistic than in years past. Let me know in the comments below what your expectations are for 2019 and beyond.