It is that time of year again, time to put the reality stone to bed for a few fleeting moments, pull that crystal ball out from the drawer, dust it off, and take a gander inside. This exercise is not just for me, as once again I have reached out to my fellow writers to get their predictions as well. The format is the same as years past, so let’s dive right in and see what everyone thinks for the upcoming 2019 MLS season for Orlando City.
Record: 14-11-9 (51 points).
Eastern Conference Result: 5th.
Playoff Result: First-round elimination.
Season MVP: Nani. I foresee far more assists than goals, and I believe his leadership and the intangibles that he brings to the table will spur on the Lions to their first-ever playoff appearance.
Breakout Player: Chris Mueller. With an impressive showing in the preseason and an unmatchable work ethic, I think the club’s new No. 9 will have an impressive year. He appears to be the heir apparent to Dom Dwyer’s role once he hangs up his boots, but I still foresee a great sophomore season for the young attacker.
Bold Prediction: Aside from the Lions finding their way into the playoff race for the first time in the club’s MLS history, I foresee a huge difference in the club’s goal differential as opposed to last season’s -31. Going out on a limb, but I think the goal differential will be in the black this season.
Season Outlook: Massive optimism. There are some questions, namely who will win the starting role between the sticks, but the addition of Nani is going to be massive. I think this is the season that the Lions finally make their presence known, and James O’Connor will remain at the helm at the conclusion of the season.
Record: 9-13-12 (39 points). If this team can improve enough to turn last year’s losses into draws and draws into wins, then Orlando might have a passable record in 2019, but with half of the 22 losses being by multiple goals and uninspiring defensive acquisitions in the off-season, it seems like it will be an uphill struggle.
Eastern Conference Result: 9th. Even with the best starts, Orlando can’t escape the summer slump hoodoo. Admittedly, last year’s slump turned more into a nosedive with the Lions taking nine points out of the last possible 75, with none coming away from home in that time. A complete reset for the second time in as many years breeds some hope that things could be different and with an extra playoff spot up for grabs it may finally be the year the Lions make it to the promised land, but it’s hard to see no less than eight teams comfortably better than Orlando in the East right now.
Season MVP: Don’t overthink it, it’s Nani. The Euro 2016 winner is according to some remarkably not at his peak anymore. You don’t say! That’s irrelevant, even at 32 (two of last season’s five MVP candidates arrived older than that and were equally written off as “past it” before tearing everyone apart) he is undoubtedly the best player in this squad. His technical ability, outlandish creativity and wicked eye for goal should allay any cliché fears about the four-time Premier League champion having “lost a step.” That’s not to say he’s a miracle worker and leaning on him too heavily like many of Kaká’s teammates did won’t help him flourish.
Breakout Player: With no less than 11 senior acquisitions so far made this winter and a large number of them being relatively unknown quantities in an MLS setting it’s hard to tell which ones will hit. One familiar face, however, is Chris Mueller, who had a hot start to his rookie season and was earning early Rookie of the Year plaudits before his production tailed off along with the rest of the team. If you thought year one Cash was good, I’m touting him to have an even better 2019.
Bold Prediction: Only one MLS season has seen two Orlando players hit double figures for goals when Larin and Molino bagged 14 and 11, respectively, in 2016. Last campaign, Dwyer topped the charts with 13 but the next best was Kljestan with a paltry six. So how is this for bold? Orlando will have three players with 10+ goals for the first time, a feat achieved by D.C. United, both LA teams, San Jose, and Sporting Kansas City last year.
Season Outlook: You can’t be disappointed if you had low expectations to start with, right? In all seriousness, Orlando City is a small fish compared to the MLS elite and will be scrapping for the last handful of playoff spots — but they are well within reach. MLS is an unpredictable beast and if O’Connor manages to regain that confidence that made Orlando so difficult to beat at home in the first few seasons then an uptick in home points, along with a simple return to the mean for away form, and the Lions have a shout. However, my biggest hope for 2019 is that it’s simply more watchable. With Nani, Mueller, Dwyer, Tesho Akindele, Benji Michel and Santiago Patino, O’Connor can no longer lament his lack of forward options and City must play on the front foot more if they are to succeed.
Record: Shockingly, I believe that Orlando will end up around — or even slightly over — 50 points. I see the Lions getting 15-ish wins, with a handful of draws, resulting in a fifth-place spot in the East.
Playoffs: Good shot at getting past Round One, but Orlando will be eliminated in the conference semifinals.
Season MVP: Without a doubt, this will be Nani. As much as we all loved Kaká, Nani is still performing at a high level and comes to the club pretty much match fit. With the team consisting of a lot of youth, Nani’s experience and leadership will lift everyone around him on the pitch. Orlando has attacking options for him and a coach that is willing and able to adjust things as the match dictates. He most likely won’t be the team’s top scorer, but his assists and creativity will lead the way.
Breakout Player: Tesho Akindele. He has already begun to demonstrate a connection with last season’s breakout player, Chris Mueller. He’s big and strong, and can arguably provide better hold-up play than Dwyer. He’s got some experience but is still young and will continue to grow as the season progresses, learning under Dwyer and Nani. When teams focus on Dwyer, like they always do, Akindele will be able to come on and surprise defenses.
Bold Prediction: The fact that I not only see City making the playoffs, but that I think it be solidly in 5th place. I fully expect Orlando to be better than seven other clubs in the East.
Season Outlook: It’s fair to say that I’m quite optimistic about this season and, just to add to that, I felt this way before the 6-2 victory on Wednesday evening. I honestly don’t put a lot of faith in that win, since the Lions were playing a team that I’m confident will finish way below them in the standings. O’Connor also fielded a fairly random assortment of players that will most likely not be consistent first-team starters. I do, however, have a lot faith in O’Connor and I’m certain that him having a full, intense preseason will lead to the club’s first playoff run. The younger, less experienced signings will be out to prove something, and having a superstar leader on the pitch in Nani is exactly the right balance needed for the club to have a standout 2019.
Record: 11-16-7 (40 points), 9th in the Eastern Conference.
Playoffs: No playoffs.
Season MVP: Nani is probably the highest profile player signed in MLS this off-season, and he will live up to the expectations. His services into the box, combined with his long-range shots, will be detrimental to oppositions in 2019. Nani will lead the team in assists, and be second in goals, behind Dom Dwyer.
Breakout Player: Alex De John. De John has been promising this preseason. He has played well and looks to have chemistry with the other center backs already. On a team that broke the record for allowing the most goals in MLS history a season ago, the back line should be a focal point. Arguments can be made, and I agree, that many of the goals let in were not the defenders’ fault, but look to De John as a big part of the solution to this problem.
Bold Prediction: Orlando City will improve in every statistical category from last year. Okay, that is not saying too much as last year was a train wreck, but small steps here! This year will be better than in 2018 in every sense of the word.
Season Outlook: James O’Connor’s rebuild will take some time, so don’t expect fireworks this year. But, as long as the front office finds some patience, O’Connor will get the team to where it needs to be. This season will be much more entertaining, with fewer goals allowed and more goals scored, but ultimately the Lions will miss the playoffs.
Record: 14-9-11 (51 points).
Eastern Conference Result: 6th.
Playoff Result: Lose in first round (but hey, they made it).
Season MVP: Dom Dwyer. The new player additions free up Dom to be Dom, and force the opposition to cover other players.
Breakout Player: Tesho Akindele will have a massive impact on the Lions season. He will not only score plenty of goals himself (not to mention assists), but his presence will allow Dwyer to score more as well. We’ve also seen the chemistry that Tesho has with Chris Mueller, and I think that it will transfer to the other players as well.
Bold Prediction: Orlando City doesn’t change coaches mid-season. That shouldn’t be a bold prediction, but the recent past looms large.
Season Outlook: There will be marked improvement from a squad that has a lot of new faces. James O’Connor will actually have everyone pulling the same direction, and the team will score many more goals. This will be the turnaround year the club has needed, but it will also just be the foundation, as the 2020 season will be the year to enjoy.
The Bearded Guy
Record: 17-13-4 (for an insane 55 points).
Eastern Conference Result: 4th.
Playoff Result: The Lions make the playoffs, and that is all that matters. The new playoff structure in MLS means that the Lions will play on the road, which sucks. The good news here is that the Lions will play a playoff match.
Season MVP: I am going to step out on a limb and throw Lamine Sané out as my season MVP. Nani is an easy choice, and he will come in second, but I honestly believe that Sané will be the man we toast to at the season’s end.
Breakout Player: Benji Michel. I fully expect names like Nani, Sebas Mendez, Mueller, Dwyer, Akindele, and others to make an impact. I think that Michel off the bench will be one of those impact players that runs teams stupid. He is going to be that 20-minute sub that is feared in MLS.
Bold Prediction: Orlando City makes a turnaround that even Matt Doyle cannot help but write nice things about. OCSC is going to make heads turn this season, and not because the Lions are breaking the records they unfortunately set last season. This is the season that Orlando City solidifies itself as an Eastern Conference juggernaut.
Season Outlook: It is going to be a roller coaster, but in the end, the club will see the promised land. I fully expect more wins than losses, thanks to defending our home.
I hate making predictions, and usually abstain from participating in these preseason prediction things, but I’m jumping in this year for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.
Record: 12-13-9 (45 points).
Eastern Conference Result: 8th.
Playoff Result: No playoffs, but a step closer toward them in the future.
Season MVP: The man who will put up the statistics will be Dom Dwyer, reaping the rewards from a much-improved surrounding cast and a better overall offensive team philosophy. Dom’s goal total will climb to at least 15 goals and the assists will be split among Nani, Chris Mueller, Sebas Mendez, and others.
Breakout Player: Sebas Mendez, and this is why I’m in this column. Seriously? No one else picked Sebas? In fairness, only a few of us on staff were able to be at both Orlando City Invitational matches, but Mendez was a huge problem for New York City FC on both the defensive end and in the attack. I loved his energy, his tenacity, and his knack for finding the right teammate with his next pass.
Bold Prediction: Sacha Kljestan will return to his Red Bulls-level assist numbers. If the NYCFC match is anything to judge by, Kljestan appears to have regained his mojo. His passes were spot on, his energy level was high, and he had a good understanding of where his teammates would move next.
Season Outlook: This team is made up of a lot of new pieces and the biggest of those — Nani — hasn’t gotten a preseason game in (and won’t). He may not even be available in the opener if his paperwork is slow to arrive. I still think this team is a couple of players away from completing the overhaul it needed, I’m not convinced the young strikers will be sufficient additions, and the attacking part of the midfield is still too thin. Some steps in the right direction will be made, but I don’t know that this team is ready to join the postseason party just quite yet.
There you have it folks. Do you agree or disagree? Please let us know in the comments. You never know, I might sing your praises or make fun of you incessantly at the end of the season.