There are certain things in life that are absolute: you are born, you pay taxes, you die. I would argue that you could also add that you find a club and you follow it through thick and thin, wins and losses, good times and bad times, and you never lose your love of the crest. Being a supporter is meant to test you, your resolve, and your ability to look adversity in the eye and stand strong, knowing exactly what may, or may not, be before you. The 2019 MLS season was just that for me — a test of resolve, a test of fortitude, and a test of faith in the club that I have called my own for longer than any other I have supported.
It has been a little over a month since the 2019 season came to another disappointing end for Orlando City SC. Five years in MLS, five years of not making the name for themselves that we all expect. How deep you make a run into the playoffs means nothing if you don’t, at first, simply make the playoffs. I won’t sit here and wax poetic about how absolutely moronic I think that MLS and its governing body have made the playoffs. I won’t try to convince you that the Supporters’ Shield is a much more important trophy than the MLS Cup. Do you know why my opinion means nothing at this point? Because OCSC hasn’t made the playoffs, hasn’t been near the playoff picture recently, and honestly, hasn’t been that relevant in the East for some time. Would you like to know something? That is really beginning to get under my skin.
This club will begin its next season in MLS with its fourth head coach. I want that to set in a little bit in your mind. Although this is not the only team in MLS to be making a change in coaching this off-season, nor is this the only team in MLS to be looking for its fourth head coach in five years (surprisingly, but maybe not so shocking, New York City FC is looking for a new head coach as well, which will be its fourth). If there is one thing I think I know, it is that stability is key in building a foundation from which to progress. With the constant cast of rotating players in the front office, the limited time given to head coaches, and the seemingly endless rebuilding of the roster, what exactly to people expect?
Is there a chance that every single piece could fall perfectly into place across the entire season? Sure, there is always a chance, but let’s be realistic about the probability that scenario could happen. For Orlando City, that probability is going to be less than the probability of the new clubs coming into MLS in 2020 and beyond because it always takes longer and more money to right a wrong than it does to start from scratch.
I think what adds to the frustration is that we are all waiting with baited breath for the personnel moves to begin. The rumors are starting to fly, with Dom Dwyer being linked to a possible move to Minnesota United (although the Quintero trade is off as he was just officially welcomed to the Houston Dynamo) and the last original Lion, Cristian Higuita, has been linked to moves abroad, although he has currently denied the rumors and stated he wants to stay with OCSC.
Until this club has named its new skipper, I do not foresee much movement in personnel, except for a few very minor moves here and there. The club is tied to numerous players currently, so the new coach and Luiz Muzzi will have to find a way to work with them and fit them into the new system that the Lions will ultimately be playing come March of 2020. However, I said this was going to be reflecting, and I seem to have gone on a tangent looking forward, so let me collect myself for a moment and get back to 2019.
It was certainly a roller coaster, and not one that I would particularly wait in line to ride again (although to be honest, I will year after year). Just when it looked like the club was heading in a positive direction, it stumbled; however, I can say, without hesitation, that 2019 gave me more hope, more positive takeaways, and more joy than the previous two seasons. Some of the players brought both cheers and anger from me, but this is the first season when I have honestly not hidden my desire to march on downtown, torch and pitchfork in hand, and find the creature responsible for all of this club’s misery and torment.
I could finally see the beginning of a plan, I could see the building blocks form in front of me, and I understood when matches did not go as expected because some of the blocks just didn’t fit quite right yet. I thought I had a fairly solid grasp on what James O’Connor was trying to do — still working to mold a roster that wasn’t entirely his, with a GM that hadn’t hired him, and a fan base that was getting restless waiting for a piece of hope that somewhere over that Florida afternoon rainbow was indeed a spot in the playoffs.
Some other moments stood out as well:
- Again, thanks to random work schedules, I was able to catch some football on the road. You meet the most amazing people when you are out of your own element trying to catch some football, whether it be your club or just going as a neutral.
- The Running of the Wall is something I will never forget as I joined everyone else in making a beeline for the other end of the stadium. I swear that if you watch carefully enough, you can see my shirtless form run by in one of the camera shots of the concourse.
- I got to experience the MLS All-Star Game from an unbelievable seat, and cheer and jeer players from across MLS and Atletico Madrid.
- I met even more amazing fans who I would now call my friends, both in person and through the typical social media channels.
Hindsight is always 20/20, and it is easy to look back and wallow in what could have been. In my circles, I was always the most optimistic of people, constantly looking for that sliver of hope, the tiniest glint of gold in the swirling slurry in the pan of fandom as I stood waist-deep in the roiling tempest of MLS soccer.
Regardless of my meanderings above, it was a good season. Good in the sense that progress was made. Good in the sense that I had fun, on the whole. Good in the sense that I did not hesitate to renew my season tickets. This past season also taught me that I need to reign my optimism in, just a fraction more than I did this season, and try to view the world of MLS a bit more realistically. Don’t get me wrong, I will not be turning into some weathered old man yelling at everyone to get off my lawn, but I will certainly be considering more factors than I have in previous years. My love for this club is going nowhere; in fact, I truly believe that 2019 made the bond even stronger.