The Orlando City season went just about as expected, although the playoffs seemed possible until late in the season. But the club underwent a late-season skid and fired James O’Connor after the season ended. Although the season may have had a similar ending, there was still plenty of excitement over the course of the season.
The (Mostly) Positive Preseason
The off-season was generally seen in a positive light. The one negative was that Yoshimar Yotún transferred to Cruz Azul after the star midfielder requested a transfer. It was a massive blow as he was the best player for Orlando City at the time. But, overall, there were many positives from the 2018-2019 off-season.
Orlando City signed Luiz Muzzi as the club’s executive vice president of soccer operations almost exactly a year ago today. This is arguably the best non-player signing that the club has made in its MLS era. He brought a proven track record, both in MLS and abroad, with him. It was a signing that made most Orlando City fans feel as if the team was finally moving in the right direction.
Later in the preseason, the Lions brought in Nani, the highest-profile signing since Kaká. It looked like a great signing that would help Orlando fight for a playoff spot. The Lions also signed Benji Michel to a Homegrown contract, brought in Sebas Mendez in December, signed Ruan, and drafted Santiago Patino with their first pick in the MLS SuperDraft and Kamal Miller in the second in January.
A Hopeful Start to the Season
There was a sense of hope to start the season. Well, actually, I’m not sure if it was hope as more as wishing things would turn out different. It was similar to buying a lottery ticket, with fingers crossed and knowing that there is a slim chance things would work out.
There were only three losses in the first nine games and maybe, just maybe, this would be the year that Orlando City made the playoffs.
The Mueller Debate
The biggest storyline at the beginning of the season was about Chris Mueller. The second-year forward was excellent scoring goals and helping the Lions get points, but he was doing it all off the bench. This led to an outcry from supporters that he should be starting. But the debate centered on the fact that if he is having this effect off the bench, why change things?
U.S. Open Cup Deep Run
The Lions made their biggest run in the U.S. Open Cup in the franchise’s history. It started with a 3-1 win over Memphis 901 FC after Robin Jansson scored his first Orlando City goal and Sacha Kljestan netted a brace.
Benji Michel opened his Orlando City scoring account in the next round in Orlando’s 2-1 win against the New England Revolution. Tesho Akindele scored one of the ugliest goals you will ever see, but, hey, they all count the same. The Revs scored to pull it back to 2-1, but the Lions were able to hold on and advance.
The most memorable game of the entire season came in the quarterfinals against New York City FC. It was a boring game for most of the match. Mueller put Orlando ahead 1-0 in the 61st minute, but then New York City leveled it late. After no goals in extra time, a penalty kick shootout ensued and this is what made the game so unforgettable.
The south end of the stadium was not used, and that’s where the kicks were taken. New York City’s fans were the only people on that side of the stadium, high in the upper deck. The Orlando City fans then pulled off “The Running of the Wall.” The supporters’ section in the north end, almost in its entirety, got up and sprinted around the concourse to the south end. Security attempted to stop this from happening, but the fans won out, and Orlando got its home-field advantage in the penalty shootout. Behind Adam Grinwis, the Lions won and advanced to the semis.
The Lions lost in the next round to Atlanta United. The pregame hype was calling it the biggest game in Orlando City history. The Orlando crowd showed up with an announced attendance of 18,461 — a club record for the U.S. Open Cup. But ultimately, the dream run ended.
The second most exciting part of the summer for Orlando City fans was the 2019 MLS All-Star Game. A sellout crowd stormed Exploria Stadium to see Atletico Madrid dominate the MLS All-Stars 3-0. O’Connor coached the MLS side and Nani got the start, but the best part might just be those awesome purple kits.
Orlando won only two games after the All-Star Game. The Lions were in playoff contention but failed to win in the last eight matches of the season and paid dearly. O’Connor then got fired, and everyone was reminded that every coach of this team is always on the hot seat.
The Rebuild Begins…Again
The team is now in yet another rebuild mode. It shed almost $4 million in cap space after the season and just hired its fourth coach of the MLS era. It feels like the team is in a vicious cycle that can never be broken.