The last five years were frustrating for Orlando City fans as they’ve seen the club make significant changes to the front office and the first team’s roster with little success. The club had four different general managers and now searches for its fourth head coach in that period. While fans are anxious for good results, the club is in its best position for success since 2015.
During the club’s USL era, roster decisions were primarily made by former head coach Adrian Heath. Between Heath and then-club president Phil Rawlins, a core of players were put together that won five trophies in four years. While that type of success can’t be expected by an MLS expansion side in a small market, that level of stability can.
Prior to the 2014 USL season, Orlando City hired Paul McDonough to be its vice president of soccer operations. Together, McDonough and Heath developed a three-year plan to build a team that would compete for an MLS Cup. However, that disappeared after the 2015 season, Orlando City’s first in MLS. The club hired Armando Carneiro as chief soccer officer, effectively pushing McDonough out the door.
Carneiro lasted less than two months in Orlando before leaving. In his place, Rawlins took over as general manager with Niki Budalic — a man with little experience building a team — as his assistant. This left the club with two people who had yet to build an MLS roster occupying key positions. In 2017, Budalic was elevated to the top position in soccer operations and lasted until the end of the very disappointing 2018 season, at which point he was fired.
Heading into the 2019 MLS season, Orlando City put yet another person in charge of its soccer operations. Luiz Muzzi was the director of soccer for Traffic Sports, the assistant technical director at FC Dallas, and then the vice president of soccer operations at FC Dallas. While he only held the latter position for a couple of months, he was involved with building an MLS squad before joining Orlando City.
This move gave Orlando City something it lacked the previous five years: a hire with MLS experience. While McDonough had a plan with Heath, he still lacked MLS front office experience.
Expecting Muzzi to have much influence on the 2019 squad would have been unrealistic as there was not enough time to understand a club and make the necessary moves for the upcoming season. But with a full off-season, he is now able to make decisions that will impact the club.
Having seen the club suffer for five years, it’s understandable that Orlando City supporters won’t be patient. They’ll want an immediate fix that will result in a playoff run in 2020. However, that too might be unrealistic.
Orlando City’s almost completely rebuilt the roster three times in five years. It’s seen little success through its development academy and the second team has just now decided to start developing Homegrown talent. The success the fans crave won’t come overnight.
The most successful sports organizations are run by owners that hire quality people within the industry and let them work. When owners get too involved, it typically results in disaster. In order for Orlando City to experience success for the first time since joining MLS, the club’s top executives, majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva and CEO Alex Leiteo, must allow their hires to do their job without interference. Additionally, and more importantly, they must give those employees the time to build a team without significant changes.
It’s inarguable that Orlando City has been run poorly over the past five years. The record of that leadership is on the field in five losing seasons. But for the first time since the club joined MLS, it appears to be on the right path. If the club can stay on that path, success might be on the horizon.