There are several ways that clubs build their squads and the way they go about it often defines the kind of clubs they are. Some clubs spend big money to fill positions with the best of the best. Some people call those teams plastic, but their championships and league success would prove that their spending is working for them.
Other clubs look for the single star player — the playmaker who will score flashy goals, while motivating and elevating the players around him. One could argue that Orlando City tried to make that identity work with Kaká in the beginning and more recently with Nani. While the Portuguese captain has been a huge game changer for the team, when he’s out of the lineup the team performance often suffers. Orlando’s path to the playoffs cannot rest solely on the shoulders of one man.
Still other clubs sink their money into coaching and training staff to adequately develop players for the pitch. These coaches come from winning clubs and backgrounds and apply their winning techniques to new clubs.
Orlando City has had seasons where it spent a lot of money on one player and as a result seems to have a payroll in the league’s upper tier, but it’s not a payroll that competes with the likes of Toronto, the LA Galaxy, Seattle, LAFC, or Atlanta. Season in and season out we see coaches come and go, and we see large turnover with the players. There has been a lot of inconsistency over the years, with the starting 18 looking wildly different from week to week at times. OCSC rebuilding year after year clearly has kept the team from building any identity.
It seems as though Orlando City tries to make pieces of these various identities work for them, but nothing has panned out quite yet. With Oscar Pareja taking the lead and Luiz Muzzi making big decisions with player acquisition, the club might just be on to finding its identity. Muzzi is creative in his role as Executive VP of soccer operations.
There aren’t many complaints about the players he’s acquired since joining the club. With three young players — including two Homegrown Players — the club has signed this week alone, I think the club is looking at a new identity angle, in which, to quote the late Whitney Houston, “[They] believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way.” Muzzi is laying the foundation for the future while, at the same time, adding pieces like Mauricio Pereyra to handle things in the present.
Regardless of what identity the club assumes, and I don’t think anyone would be mad if the Lions became the big spending type of team, Orlando City is going to have to take huge steps just to keep up at the bottom of the conference, not to even mention rise above the playoff line. Earlier this week, Sporting Kansas City announced the team had acquired 28-year-old Mexican striker Alan Pulido. The new Designated Player comes on at a club-record transfer fee from C.D. Guadalajara. There haven’t been any official reports on what that record-breaking fee was, but many believe it to be between $9.5 and $10.5 million.
Orlando City appears to be headed in a direction to where the club will build for the future with younger players, but some veterans will be needed not only to help them grow and learn, but also to get results now under Pareja. It’s the kind of team that FC Dallas has had over Pareja’s time there — younger players developing and building chemistry together, with a few stars and veterans mixed in.
Only time will tell if Orlando does indeed go in that direction or if the front office has something else in mind — the club does have some cap space to play with this off-season. But whatever method the club uses to build and maintain its team will determine the type of identity Orlando City eventually has.