For any sports franchise, it’s important to have an overall philosophy — a vision and method for how the club should be run from the front office all the way down to how the team should play on the field or court is needed. Having a clear philosophy helps build a team’s identity.
For years, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have been known for their defenses. FC Porto is widely known as a club that excels at developing and subsequently selling young players. FC Barcelona have a legendary academy team and have long played a possession, pass-heavy style of soccer.
Those types of philosophies have begun to emerge more prominently in Major League Soccer as the league has taken firm root and begun to expand and truly succeed. The New York Red Bulls have a stellar academy system that’s produced success stories like Tyler Adams, Timothy Weah, and Juan Agudelo. They have a history of finding and molding young players and either integrating them into their teams like Agudelo and Adams, or selling them off for a profit, while FC Dallas is also renowned for its academy’s ability to develop young players.
Newly minted MLS champion Atlanta United has gone a different route and found great success through its excellent scouting and purchasing of young players, specifically South American ones.
Orlando City SC, meanwhile, is a different story. During its time in MLS, the team has had three different full-time coaches, a handful of different general managers, and has even seen the departure of a prominent owner/club founder in just four seasons. The upshot of all this is that Orlando has seemed like a club in flux for much of its MLS existence. The team’s struggles on the field in the top tier of American soccer certainly haven’t helped matters. The last two off-seasons (including this one) have seen particularly large roster overhauls, and last off-season’s roster rejuvenation did not serve to help the team’s problems.
One of the team’s biggest problems, at least in my opinion, is that the constant changes at every level of the club have made it difficult for any singular philosophy or club identity to take hold. While Head Coach James O’Connor has attempted to institute a build from the back, possession-based playing style since arriving, it was difficult to discern what the on-field philosophy was before he took over. The Lions attacked and defended in the flow of the game but it was never always clear what the team’s preferred style of play was.
This is something that has extended to the front office as well. The Lions have used a mixture of the MLS SuperDraft, Orlando City B products, and signings and trades to fill out the roster but have never truly excelled in a particular area. In the SuperDraft, there have been players who found great success like Cyle Larin or players like Antonio Matarazzo, who never sniffed the first team. Earl Edwards Jr. is probably the player with the most success for the senior side having also featured a lot for Orlando City B, and he only played six MLS games for the club. In the transfer market OCSC has had great success with signings like Yoshimar Yotún, but for every Yoshi there are plenty of players like Justin Meram who simply never settled or performed particularly well, or guys like Carlos Rivas who had plenty of time but failed to live up to expectations.
That’s not to say that a team’s players should only come from one source, or that Orlando should try to play the same exact way every single game. However, it certainly helps to know what you want to be good at and to stick to your strengths. But when a team does nothing particularly well, that isn’t possible. Worse yet, when there is a lack of overall direction and vision from top to bottom it’s very easy for a club to simply drift aimlessly. While a lack of such a philosophy isn’t the only thing plaguing OCSC, it certainly isn’t making life any easier for the Lions.