It has only been a few days since we learned the first phase of roster adjustments leading up to the 2020 MLS season. There may have been cheers, there may have been a few tears shed, and there is certainly some uncertainty surrounding the the first team. The full nature of MLS contract definitions and inner workings may only be known to a few, but some of the names that appear to be gone, based on the end-of-year contract disclosures, may not truly be gone. We are bound to see some new faces when that first whistle blows on the 2020 MLS regular season, so you might as well prepare yourself now. There is always an emotional toll.
It doesn’t take much for us as fans to become attached to players. Once that happens, we buy their jerseys, attend events where they are making appearances, and defend their honor as best we can across all of the social media platforms. They become almost a part of our daily lives, entrenched in our Orlando City identity and persona, and fear culminates in so many this time as year as roster moves are made. It is easy for some — those fans who gravitate towards players who seem to be guaranteed a spot next season. Some find themselves attached to players that “should” have a spot, but might be questionable or are the previous regime’s “guy” and they may or not make it to next season. Regardless, it is always tough to handle when a favorite player departs, complicated even more by the insanity that is the MLS contract structure.
I have had my fair share of favorites get to this time of year, only to find that they would no longer be wearing purple the next season. There is no easy way to handle it, other than to thank them for what they gave and move on. “Once a Lion, always a Lion” will be attached to everyone who played for this club, save a few individuals, but you cannot typically follow those players with your heart to their next club. There will be moments where you can root them on, but the unwavering devotion will always be with Orlando City, and with those players who wear the crest on their chest. There are players who I wish would come back, regardless of their age, regardless of what the stat sheet might say. Some players took the pitch and owned it with their infectious emotions and attitude. Others were just work horses that gave everything, starting or coming off the bench. This is, of course, absolutely not realistic, and I realize as much, but sometimes it feels like this club just needs more of that emotional energy.
This is the problem with this time of year. Emotions will always get the better of you, possibly even more so than at any time in the regular season. Admittedly, playoff emotions and championship emotions are something amazing, but relative to Orlando City, we have yet to experience them in MLS. Compound this with a club with a new front office, currently making personnel decisions with no head coach named; key additions to a defensive side that made leaps and bounds over last year currently off the roster; and the last of the old guard — the last of the original MLS Lions, Cristian Higuita, currently out of contract. There is such a maelstrom of emotions swirling that is is hard to tell sometimes if I am angry, elated, content, or simply numb.
I am trying to force myself to be more pragmatic about this, reviewing statistics from the past few seasons, trying to logically compare my illogical feelings with data driven performance numbers for the players, but it is not helping. It is, in fact, making this even more difficult.
What are your emotions telling you currently during this dynamic period? Are you as conflicted as I am? It certainly isn’t causing me to lose any hope in the club’s future; however, it is causing me much anxiety as I try to determine just how long this club will drive me to verge of panic this time every year. At this point in our relationship, is it too much to ask for a bit of stability?