So far, the off-season has been just as much fun as I thought it would be. The club finally has named its head coach, has brought in players, went on a Homegrown Player-signing spree, and rumors are floating around all over the internet of other players linked with moves to Orlando. With 20 players currently signed to the first team, who needs to step up and make a huge impact or face an uncertain future with the Lions?
One of the newest Lions hasn’t even taken the pitch for the club competitively yet, but the weight of the role he is being asked to play is already growing. The 19-year-old defensive midfielder will be in good company with Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell as the team’s current trio of DMs; however, he has some lofty shoes to fill. Fan favorite Cristian Higuita — the last of the original Lions, who was a stalwart in the defensive midfield until the 2019 season — has said his goodbyes, as has workhorse Will Johnson and Carlos Ascues.
Perea is coming to a club that has not had much luck signing young players from Central and South America (more on this in a minute), and it would be great for him to break that curse. I believe that the tools to help him be successful are better now than ever before with Orlando, but he will need to make his case loudly for Orlando to consider picking up the option to buy his contract after the 2020 season.
The player who carries the Lions’ Young Designated Player tag, Colmán’s time in Orlando has not lived up to the promise that we all had hoped it would. At only 21 years old, Colmán has time to build his game, although that timeline may be the next season if he wants to continue to play in Orlando. He played in 24 matches, starting in 10, during the 2018 campaign, scoring one goal and assisting on five others. In 2019, he all but disappeared from the first team, making eight appearances, one start, for just over 150 minutes in the first few months of the regular season before being loaned out to Cerro Porteno. The loan is for a year and half with Orlando holding the right to recall him in either the January or June 2020 transfer windows.
This deal should have helped to get Colmán some more professional minutes to build up into the MLS-level starter that the club certainly needs him to be. The one position that the Lions seem to have trouble locking down is some creativity in the attacking midfield, and Colman was certainly brought in to try to fill part of that need. Unfortunately, it appears that he only appeared in one match for Cerro Perteno after the loan, but the front office certainly sees something in him. This will certainly be Josué’s “do or die” season with the Lions, and the young DP can expect everyone to have all eyes on him this season.
You knew this name would show up. “He scores when he wants,” except goals seemed to be much harder to come by for Dwyer in 2019. After a 13-goal season in 2018, Dom’s minutes and productivity shrank in 2019. Strikers are notoriously streaky, and some might argue that Dom just had an “off” season, but with a club that has yet to make the playoffs and appears to be being left behind by the rest of MLS, having an “off” season may not be acceptable. Also note that Dom will be turning 30 midway through the 2020 season. I am not saying that his age is an issue, but it could be until he proves otherwise. It also doesn’t help that he is carrying a Designated Player tag and is not producing like others who wear that tag around the league. It is also frustrating to see a Designated Player only make 16 starts for the club. His seven goals and four assists were helpful in 2019, but the club needs much more from its big money striker. Dom is an absolutely beloved player, but unless he earns the DP tag this season, it could be his last as a Lion.
So much has changed already since the first week of October, and we are nowhere near finished watching the changes that will happen before Feb. 29, 2020. Muzzi and Pareja are carefully crafting their new vision for the club, and have already given us hints as to leaning on some more youth moving forward. They have a history of success doing this, but it takes time.
What is not as apparent is what they plan to do to fix the immediate needs of the club and the fans. Another year of not making the playoffs could lead to angry mobs marching on the front office with torches and pitchforks. What is obvious is that players are going to have prove that they belong here, and some are going to have more to prove than others. Emotional attachments aren’t good enough anymore. Players will need to show, beyond any doubt, that they deserve to wear purple beyond the 2020 season.