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View from the End Line: What the USMNT Experience Can Teach Us All

I had an epiphany on The Wall, helping to reset my City expectations.

Ecuador v United States Photo by Harry Aaron/Getty Images

In case you missed it, Orlando City Stadium once again found itself host to one of the United States national teams for an international match. This time, the USMNT hosted Ecuador in a friendly on Thursday.

The collective Yanks, both women and men, are undefeated playing in Orlando City Stadium, which bodes well for future matches for the U.S. teams, and future fun for the fans at large. The match this past week gave me pause to think and reflect on a few things, including some possible parallels between the current state of the USMNT and the Orlando City Lions. Before you jump to any conclusions, please give me a moment to explain where I am coming from, and what similarities, or lessons to be learned, I see.

If you are new to following the USMNT, there is a new coach, a new pool of players, and what appears to be a whole new mentality. Gregg Berhalter was named as the new coach for the USMNT on Dec. 2, 2018, a mere three and a half months ago. To date, he has coached the team in three international friendlies, winning all three against Panama (FIFA ranked 76), Costa Rica (No. 37), and, this past week, Ecuador (No. 58). As a quick point of reference, the U.S. is currently ranked 25th, second in Concacaf to 17th-ranked Mexico.

As has been the current trend of rebuilding the USMNT with youth, Berhalter has certainly been leveraging from the younger side of the men’s pool. For reference, here is the starting XI from the Ecuador match:

Of the starting XI, Gyasi Zardes is the most capped player with 43, and Christian Pulisic has the most goals with 9.

As you reflect on that, does any of this bother you? No, of course it doesn’t. Why not? Because the collective mind has been calling for dramatic change within the ranks of the USMNT since the debacle that was missing the World Cup in 2018. Fans and pundits alike were screaming from the pulpits for drastic change, and when it came, they embraced it. The team has, basically, two more years to rebuild and prepare for the next cycle. Fans are still filling seats, and traveling to root on the Yanks, understanding that what they are watching is going to take time.

Have you figured out the similarity yet?

Orlando City fans and critics have been yelling, louder and louder with each position further away from the red line. When the club entered MLS, the expectations were beyond reach. When the club decided to make the first switch in terms of the coaching staff, the expectations reset, as the roster did as well, but not completely due to the contract structure. Does anyone remember how many full transfer windows Jason Kreis had to build the team to meet his vision?

I’m not trying to debate whether his idea of building the Lions into a 4-4-2 diamond was correct or not, it was how much honest time was he given? For that matter, how much time was the club’s first coach, Adrian Heath, given for his master plan? If I am not mistaken, Heath preached a three year plan from day one entering MLS. How patient were we with him? How patient were we with Kreis? We weren’t.

Orlando City is now in the midst of OCSC MLS version 3.0. The club has its third major roster rebuild, its third coach, new faces in the front office, and is building a new culture. Head Coach James O’Connor is working towards a long-term solution, not just a short-term fix to satiate the masses. O’Connor and Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi certainly look to be building something that will compete at the top of the Eastern Conference for years to come. Muzzi has spoken in depth about building a youth system to rival any in the U.S. currently. He has the resume to make you think he means what he says.

Why are we willing to give the national team time to rebuild, but not our home club? Why are we so quick to buy into what we hear from the national team, but are infinitely more skeptical when we hear almost the same thing from our own local club? Is it because the USMNT plays on a four-year schedule versus club play, which is year after year? Is it the familiarity we have with our local club that makes us feel a bit more tied to the present and blinded to seeing beyond the season of now?

Watching the young Yanks this past week gave me pause to ponder this very subject, as I watched a squad I knew was in a rebuilding phase, and I was reminded that I was standing in my club’s house, which is also rebuilding, and that I needed to revisit just exactly how I was handling it.