The 2020 season is upon us. Orlando City has overturned part of the roster, filled some of the holes from last season, and is preparing for its first year under a new coach. With the 2020 schedule almost upon us, I reached out to the full staff of The Mane Land to find out what we’re all thinking ahead of the Lions’ sixth season in MLS.
Not everyone responded but those who did are represented below in full. Since I usually cherry pick the best answers, this will be longer than the usual roundtable piece, so be forewarned: you may need to put a pin in this and come back to finish it later.
What is your biggest concern with Orlando City entering 2020?
David Rohe: Scoring goals. Without an MLS 3.0 level striker (at least for now), several things will need to happen for the Lions to be successful on offense. Nani will need to keep his form from last year, or improve upon it. Of course, we don’t have him to start the season. Dom Dwyer needs to get back to scoring when he wants. I’m not that worried about his dreaded “lower body injury,” but he will need to get back on track. Contributions from the youngsters will also need to be better than last year. With Daryl Dike, Chris Mueller, Benji Michel, and Tesho Akindele as options, the scoring committee needs to be in the mix.
Ben Miller: Creating scoring opportunities. I’m not quite sure Orlando has enough creative pieces in the middle of the field. I’m not worried about Nani or either of the fullbacks when it comes to making things happen out wide, and while Mauricio Pereyra showed good things last year, I simply haven’t seen enough of him yet to know what things will be like. Between Dwyer, Dike, Michel, Nani, and Mueller I think the Lions have plenty of capable finishers but I just don’t know if they have enough creativity to create chances for them to finish. If Pereyra spends time injured or suspended then i think OCSC might really struggle to score.
Guilherme Torres: Striker. We all know Dwyer can score when he’s in good form, but that wasn’t the case last year and it doesn’t seem the Lions currently have a plan B for him. It’s not unlikely that Dom performs better in 2020 than he did in 2019, but if he doesn’t Orlando will be in trouble. I’d like to see another starting-caliber winger signed too, but I think the team can get away without one.
Jenn Glasheen: I’m concerned that with Nani out the first two matches and Dom possibly out due to injury, the season will be off to a rocky start. With the exception of Dike, the club hasn’t added enough attacking pieces to be without both Dom and Nani. My hope is, if that is the case, the team can shake it off and not let it effect their mentality entering future games.
Scott Carnevale: The thing that is most concerning is that it is yet another rebuild year. There are so many new faces this season that things could go in many different directions. On paper it looks like an improvement from 2019 but nobody knows how these new players will acclimate into the league and if they could live up to expectations.
Sean Rollins: My biggest concern for Orlando City remains the striker position. Dwyer and Akindele have the potential to score 15 goals a season but they have yet to show that in purple. This is a position that has been a problem since the departure of Cyle Larin and has yet to truly be addressed.
Bearded Guy: Scoring goals. It goes without saying that City has had some finishing issues, and with a new coach, new players, new system, and Dom sidelined yet again with an injury, it is a major question as to where the goals will consistently come from.
Elliot Evans: Depth at fullback.
Joshua Taylor: Strikers. Orlando City only scored 44 goals last season. Akindele, Michel, and Mueller will have to step up if/when Nani and Dwyer go down.
Marcus Mitchell: My biggest worry is that a sluggish start to the season could set the Lions too far back too early on. With plenty of new faces this season, it will take some games for the players to get used to playing with one another under Pareja’s system. Add in Dwyer’s injury and Nani’s suspension, and wins could be hard to come by in Orlando’s first few weeks. Big matches with Atlanta United, the Portland Timbers, Minnesota United, and a pair against the Montreal Impact all come before June and the Lions could find themselves trying to keep their heads above water when the summer comes.
Alek Pierce: The lack of a true goal-scoring threat has me worried. It feels like the midfield and defense has shored up, and with Gallese in goal, that should help tremendously. I still have my worries about the center backs, but I love Ruan and Joao Moutinho on the flanks in defense and I can see them shining this year in all facets of the game. I’m hoping that Tesho shines this season, Dike grows into a bit player, and the club moves off of Dwyer. It’s just my personal opinion, but I’m ready for Dom to be gone.
My Take: I certainly share the staff’s concerns about goal-scoring in 2020, but I expect Dwyer to bounce back a bit this year and I think we’ll see more offense from Benji. If pressed, I think my biggest concern is the start of the season. With Nani and Dwyer both out at the start and many other players trying to build chemistry, the team could get off to a slow start. If that happens, hopefully it won’t have a snowball effect.
On the flip side, which part of this team are you completely unconcerned about?
Dave: The goalkeeper situation is probably the best it has ever been in Orlando City. Pedro Gallese is a top class MLS keeper, and Brian Rowe showed last season that he is a serviceable starter when needed.
Ben: It feels surreal to say this but I feel oddly confident about the team defensively. We know what we’re getting with Robin Jansson, and assuming Antonio Carlos is the other starter, he also seems to be more than capable, and more mobile than Sane was last year; which should be an additional help. Combine that with starting Peruvian international Pedro Gallese in goal and I think the team will do pretty well for itself on the defensive side of the ball.
Guilherme: Goalkeeper. Rowe wasn’t great last year, but I’m more than fine with having him as a backup. And I really believe Gallese will bring the solidness Orlando has long needed between the posts. He’s physical and experienced and, even if unspectacular, will get the job done.
Jenn: I think the midfield is going to be a strong and consistent piece for OCSC this season. Is typing this jinxing it? Am I jinxing it right now?!
Scott: Goalkeeper. Rowe is not a bad goalkeeper. He is a veteran who will make the necessary saves when called upon. There is not much more you can ask from a backup. Gallese is a top five goalkeeper in the league. I think he will have a bigger impact than Miguel Gallardo did in the USL.
Sean: The position that is in the best condition is the midfield. This year will see a full Mauricio Pereyra, which should be fun for Orlando City fans. They bring back Uri Rosell as a defensive midfielder and still have Nani, who can play several positions in the midfield.
Beard: Surprisingly, I have little to no concern on the defensive side. It might take a few matches to finish the seamless cohesion, but I think the defensive side, from central defensive midfield on back is my least concern.
Joshua: Midfield will be solid this year with many returning players like Oriol Rosell, Mauricio Pereyra, and Sebas Mendez, along with new faces like Junior Urso. I expect the midfield to help carry the offense this season.
Marcus: Orlando City allowed 52 goals in 2019, the fewest in one season since joining MLS. With Pareja running things and most of the defense returning, I expect an even lower total this season. Lamine Sané may no longer be on the team, but Jansson is a force at center back and should be able to build a rapport with Antonio Carlos. This will also be the second season together for talented players like Ruan, Moutinho, and Kamal Miller. The biggest difference maker though could be Gallese, who is an upgrade at the position compared to the serviceable Rowe.
Alek: Nani’s leadership and Orlando’s fullbacks. Nani should be able to build off of his excellent first season with the Lions, and Ruan and Moutinho, as I already mentioned, should shine this season.
My Take: I think my compadres are correct about Gallese in net, but I’m anxious to see more of him after having only seen 90 minutes out of El Pulpo with my own eyes in the preseason. I’m least concerned about wherever Nani lines up and the starting fullbacks.
Which of these young players — Sebas Mendez, Chris Mueller, Ruan, Benji Michel, Joao Moutinho, Kamal Miller, and Santiago Patino — will improve the most over last season?
Dave: I think that Benji has a real chance to make an impact. The main reason being the need for goals by committee. He will have the opportunity, especially with Dom injured to start the season. Depending on how he is utilized, he could double his production from five goals to 10. The sophomore slump is a potential with any second-year player, but I think Benji will buck that trend and have a breakout season.
Ben: I think it’ll be Mendez. He’s only 22 years old and even though he had a dip in form as the year went on, I think that was a product of him being a young player in an unfamiliar league who’s still developing. I think partnering him with Pereyra will make a big difference in what he’s asked to do, and I expect him to have quite a good year in 2020.
Guilherme: I’d say Moutinho. The Portuguese showed very little in 2019, so the only way for him to go is up. I think we can all see the skills are there and I hope that with another season under his belt and the presence of a veteran coach like Pareja can make him good, even though that wasn’t the case with Bob Bradley at LAFC. I think Mendez, Ruan and Mueller will all be better players than Moutinho in 2020, but they’re currently nearer to their ceilings than the Portuguese.
Jenn: In my opinion, it’s Moutinho, hands down. I predict Mendez and Michel will have a great season but a healthy Moutinho will finally get to prove himself and with some of those perfect crosses we saw in preseason, I’m excited to watch his performance this year.
Scott: Kamal Miller. The Canadian was very good last season, but I think he has the potential to be an every day starter by the end of this season. He made a few caps for Canada and I think he will become a regular on that back line. His versatility of playing in the center and out wide will also be a factor and help him get more game time.
Sean: The players best suited to improve from last season are Michel and Miller. Michel has played significantly during the preseason for Oscar Pareja and appears to be in his plans throughout the season. He improved as he continued to play last year and I don’t see that changing. Miller is a natural center back that has been used at left back for club and country (Canada). Last year was really the first year he played that position at any level so there was some unfamiliarity with it. As he continues to play significant minutes at the position, I think we’ll see tremendous improvement.
Beard: I think it will be a coin flip between Benji and Sebas. Benji looked like a man possessed in the preseason match I attended, and I think Sebas is going to come into this season with an extra chip on his shoulder.
Elliot: Benji Michel.
Joshua: Mueller was a super sub coming off the bench last year and started 16 games. I expect him to get a chance to be on the wing and have the chance to get more than 5 goals this season.
Marcus: Benji could absolutely break out in 2022. Most eyes will be on Dwyer, Dike, Nani, and fan favorite Chris Mueller, but Michel had a decent rookie season last year with five goals in fewer than 1,000 minutes. I don’t think he will lead the team in scoring or anything, but I think he can reach 10 goals this year. Dike is the only new forward on the team and Dom’s injury could open the door for Michel to prove he is Pareja’s best choice among Mueller, Patino, and Dike. Also as an honorable mention, Moutinho can only improve after a 2019 plagued by injury. I just think Miller can hold him off at the left back position.
Alek: This one’s close, and I don’t think Ruan should even be on this list as he’s one of our best assets, but I hope to see Mueller continue to grow into a threat in the final third. I’m sick and tired of his “super sub” reputation — he’s much more than that and I hope the club’s supporters recognize it this season.
My Take: I think my colleagues have covered this one pretty well. If Moutinho stays healthy I certainly expect this team to be a lot better in 2020 due to his service and because teams can’t cheat so much to Orlando’s right to stop Ruan. But Michel looks like a real player once he finds some consistency and he could turn out to be the first Homegrown to truly star for the team in MLS. Mendez and Miller should also show some improvement. I suspect Mueller may be close to his ceiling, although I’d be happy to be proven wrong. I still love him as a sub for the last 25-30 minutes of a game with the energy he brings off the bench — all due respect to Alek’s response. No one talked much about Patino, and I believe Dike may have surpassed him on the striker depth chart but we’ll find out soon due to Dwyer’s injury.
Orlando City’s record for wins in the club’s MLS era is 12. I’m setting that as the over/under. Are you taking the over or the under and how many total wins are you predicting for 2020?
Dave: I’m taking the under. This team still has a lot to prove, and I’ll be happy to be wrong at the end of the season. I think the team will win 11 matches (two better than last season). Those six points, combined with more draws will help the Lions in 2020.
Ben: I’ll take the over and predict 13 for 2020. The team won nine games last year and a number of the Lions’ 10 draws and 15 losses were either one-goal losses or games in which the team gave up points from a winning position. I think the team will be better organized and better disciplined under Pareja and should be able to turn at least four of those 25 games into wins.
Guilherme: I’m taking slightly over, with 13. This roster seems to be the most talented the club has ever had, even if not by much, but I think Pareja is far better than any other coach the Lions have ever had. Competition will be tougher though.
Jenn: Over! I predict 13 Ws for the Lions.
Scott: Under. I will continue to pick the under until this team proves that it can consistently win games. I’ll give them 10 wins this season. I think they have the potential to get around 14-16 wins, but somehow they always find a way to lose games.
Sean: I think this will be a difficult season for Orlando City. I see them winning at or fewer than 12 games. This is primarily because it will take time for everyone to adjust to the changes. The club is dealing with a new head coach, new second-team coach, several new players, and this is Luiz Muzzi’s first full year really being in charge. I think this team has a bright future but I think the improvements will be seen in the next two or three years. Even Muzzi said this is a slow process and fans have to be patient.
Beard: Over. I think the season plays out opposite much of the past season, and this club struggles out of the gate. They find their form late in the first quarter of the season and just progress from there. I predict 16 wins.
Elliot: Over — 13 wins.
Joshua: Over. I expect the Lions to get 15 wins this year and finish third in the Eastern Conference.
Marcus: Call me a dreamer, but I’ll take the over on this one and go with 14. Pareja’s game plan should keep the Lions in most games and give them an opportunity to win late. I don’t think we will see a resurgence of the Cardiac Cats’ late-game heroics, but I believe this team will hold onto leads much better than last year and surprise teams when they’re on the road. When he joined FC Dallas in 2014, Pareja led the club to their most wins in a season (16) since 2006. While I don’t think Orlando will reach that total, I think the club record will be broken.
Alek: I’ll take the over. I have faith in Pareja — more than I’ve had with any other manager the Lions have had over the last few years.
My Take: A mixed bag from the staff here and I’m not going to help matters because I’m predicting a push. Ben provided great reasoning. It seems like the team should be better and able to turn a few draws into wins and/or a few losses into draws. The schedule is a little easier (in theory) with LAFC and Seattle — two teams Orlando has never beaten — off this year’s slate, along with San Jose. However, I’m predicting a slow start due to Dom and Nani’s absences early and tougher games late in March. Orlando has to jell and get used to Pareja’s system, and Muzzi’s overhaul isn’t quite finished, as he has said and as Sean reminded us above. I don’t know if Carlos will be as good as Lamine Sané was last year. I don’t know if Ruan will go from “fast guy” to “fast guy who doesn’t easily go down looking for calls and instead fights to set up goals.” I will be ecstatic if this team surpasses 12 wins in 2020. There will be growing pains, but I do expect some growth in the right direction or it will be a disappointing season.
Which of the new Lions will be the most valuable of all the team’s off-season signings?
Dave: This was a tough choice for me. I had already mentioned Gallese as a top level MLS keeper, but I’ll have to go with Júnior Urso. Obviously, Urso adds experience to the midfield, but that isn’t why I picked him. His ability to cover ground, connect passes, and shoot from distance will give Orlando something different. He will be a threat outside that will help unlock defenses and allow the forwards to score more goals.
Ben: I have to go with Gallese here. Make no mistake, Rowe was a lot better last year than plenty of people gave him credit for, especially in front of a defense that faded badly down the stretch and didn’t do him a ton of favors. With that being said, I think a lot of people around the league are sleeping on just how good Gallese has been in recent years — he has 62 caps with Peru for a reason. Having someone of that caliber in goal should be a massive help, and while OCSC has had some good goalkeepers I think he’ll become the new standard by which we judge them.
Guilherme: If Pareja is an option, I’d go with him. He’s proven in MLS and brings a background that fits well with the several Latinos the team has, which should make communication very smooth. On the field, I take Junior Urso. He’s an intense, two-way player and was successful in a Brazilian league which is far superior than MLS, so I see no reason why he wouldn’t succeed in the U.S. too. I don’t he’ll be a Best XI player or anything, but his production will help a lot.
Jenn: Gallese. His calmness and experience in goal is something a lot of people are counting on this season. I’m hopeful that he won’t have to work too hard with the defense, but I putting my trust in him to clean up.
Scott: I have to go with Gallese here. He will make some amazing saves this season that will keep Orlando in games. Having a top goalkeeper is a huge blessing that Orlando has yet to have in MLS. A huge save on one end can turn momentum and provide a goal on the other. Even if the season doesn’t go as planned, he will get the fans on their feet.
Sean: Goalkeeper has been a struggle for Orlando City during most of its five previous years in MLS. Joe Bendik had a short period of excellence but they’ve been unable to find that one guy. I think that Gallese has the experience and determination to be a great goalkeeper in this league. It will take time for Jansson and Carlos to get used to each other and I think Gallese will be called upon a lot in the first few weeks.
Beard: El Pulpo. Eight hands down it will be Gallese.
Joshua: Goalkeeper Pedro Gallese looks to establish himself as the top keeper for the Lions. With his World Cup and Copa America experience that will bring valuable experience as the Lions will push for the playoffs.
Marcus: I think Junior “The Bear” Urso will be the most valuable player brought in. Cristian Higuita, Will Johnson, Carlos Ascues, and Sacha Kljestan are no longer Lions and Urso helps fill that void as both a tough midfielder and a leader on the team. He was named captain in the team’s final preseason game and his personality is infectious if you’ve seen him in interviews. The 30-year-old complements Nani and Mauricio Pereyra well in the midfield and should start most games for Orlando.
Alek: Gallese, though Urso could prove me wrong. I think having Pedro is going to help us forget about all of the issues this club has had in between the sticks in the last few seasons, and I can’t wait for him to show us what he’s made of.
My Take: The staff covered it pretty well here. Gallese and Urso look to be the most important additions to me (and, off the field, Pareja, as Guilherme pointed out). But don’t sleep on Rodrigo Schlegel. Having a dependable reserve center back is a luxury and I came away from his preseason minutes rather impressed.
Is this the year? Do the Lions reach the postseason in their sixth MLS season and first under Pareja?
Dave: With the information I have right now, I’ll be optimistic and say they make the playoffs. Barely. I still see challenges for this team, but the schedule is front-loaded, allowing the team to find an identity in the friendly confines of Exploria Stadium. It won’t all be pretty, but I believe they are heading in the right direction.
Ben: Oooof. Ultimately, I don’t think so no. This team is going to be losing a couple very important players in Mendez and Gallese to Copa America 2020, and, depending on his performances up to that point, Andres Perea has an outside shot at making the Colombia squad after a very strong showing at the U-20 World Cup last year. Those absences, combined with this roster not being the finished article yet, means that I think this team improves from last year but comes up around four to six points short.
Guilherme: Unfortunately, I don’t think so. But that’s not to say Orlando didn’t do a good off-season job, which I think it did. I just think that looking at last year’s standings, from the seven teams that finished ahead of Orlando only the New York Red Bulls and Atlanta United (to a smaller extent) have regressed. On the other hand, the Columbus Crew got better and I like Inter Miami too. I think there will be opportunities for the Lions to make it to the playoffs, but I wouldn’t bet on it. They are on the right path, though.
Scott: No. Same as question No. 4, I will continue to not believe it is possible until I see otherwise. I think the team has the potential to not only make the playoffs, but to host in the first round. I don’t believe they will actually do it though.
Sean: Unfortunately, I don’t think that the Lions will make the playoffs this year. I think they’ll struggle early in the season and pick it up as the year goes along. There’s a lot of promise in this team and the coaching staff should be trusted. But this is a multi-year process and the success won’t be seen quite yet.
Marcus: I think Orlando finally pulls it off, although just barely. The entire league got better this year and I can see the Lions in a similar position late in the season as 2019. Except this time they won’t collapse and will do just enough to finally reach the postseason in either the sixth or seventh spot. It will be euphoria for Orlando fans until Atlanta United or Inter Miami eliminates them in the first round and spoil the party.
Alek: Yes. This is the year. I think the Lions scrape in and then lose in the early stages of the postseason, but progress is progress, and I foresee it happening this season.
My Take: First of all, Marcus’ last line has me salty. Don’t even put that out into the universe! This has been a typically optimistic group when it comes to playoffs in the past, but these answers speak volumes about the reality of Orlando City’s MLS existence to date. The team continues to reset and this is just the start of the Pareja era. To me, this team has a ceiling of sixth place, but I think it’s more likely that it will finish about eighth or ninth in the Eastern Conference. The only playoff team from last year that looks vulnerable to falling out is New England and there has been improvement from almost all the non-playoff teams from last year.
Hit me with your boldest prediction for Orlando City’s 2020 season. Make ‘em extra spicy!
Dave: Orlando City earns 57 points on the season for a whopping 20 points higher than in 2019. As such, the club easily makes the playoffs, has five players with 10+ goals, and +15 goal differential.
Ben: Dike scores double digit goals and bags at least seven assists. One of the things Dike was best at in college wasn’t just scoring, but providing assists and creating opportunities for his teammates. If this team exceeds expectations this year I think a big part of it will be because Dike forms a good partnership up top with Dom and helps spread some wealth in terms of chance creation. He’s obviously a big body that’s capable of holding up play well, but he also has good feet and is a very capable passer. My bold prediction is that he comes good very quickly for the Lions.
Guilherme: Center back Antonio Carlos will be one of the team’s top five goal scorers in 2020.
Jenn: My bold prediction is that for the first time in OCSC history the Lions will reach the postseason but will be eliminated in the first round. I also predict the Lions will play in the final match for the U.S. Open Cup.
Scott: Dike wins Rookie of the Year. He should get ample amount of opportunities this season and if he produces then Pareja will keep him in. There is plenty of competition at the striker position with Dwyer, Akindele, and Michel likely ahead of him on the depth chart but he should still get plenty of chances and I think his ability to assist and score will make him a valuable weapon this season.
Sean: My bold prediction is that Dwyer scores 18 goals and breaks the club’s MLS single-season mark. People are down on Dwyer but he’s getting a fresh start with Pareja and has something to prove. I think with Nani and Pereyra behind him, he’ll have more opportunities with bounces in front of goal — his specialty.
Beard: Gallese is up for MLS MVP by year end. He wrecks MLS as the saves leader and is absolute key to this club making a decent playoff run for the first time in its history. He also helps the new Lions win the U.S. Open Cup.
Elliot: Moutinho will lead team in assists.
Joshua: Orlando City will win the 2020 U.S. Open Cup and make the playoffs.
Marcus: Let’s talk about goals for my bold predictions. I think Orlando City scores a little under 50, but that four Lions reach double digits. Dwyer comes back with a vengeance. Nani converts some free kicks and penalties while leading the team in assists once again. Akindele’s reunion with Pareja will pay off and he will reach 10. Michel gets to 11, with five or six in the first few months and the rest late in the season. I don’t think Mueller, Patino, or Dike get more than five. Only Nani makes the All-Star Game, Dwyer doesn’t lead the team in scoring, and Pereyra ends up scoring more than Mueller, Patino, and Dike.
Alek: Tesho will lead the team in scoring. He’s back to his roots with Pareja at the helm, and while he isn’t Orlando’s most talented, fastest, or technically gifted striker, I see him making a difference this season. Again, I’m ready to move on from Dom, and I think Tesho can fill that void. Another bold prediction? Dike finds more minutes than anyone expects, and performs admirably in his rookie season.
My Take: Lots of bold flavors and spices in these bold takes and I’d love for all of them to happen. I have no reason on paper to think it will happen but I will predict the Lions finally get a win against Atlanta.
There it is in writing. Our preseason thoughts are out there for all to see — and to point and laugh at when some of this stuff looks completely out of whack at season’s end. I want to thank new TML copy editor Elliot Evans for weighing in with his brief responses despite the fact that his wife gave birth this week. Congratulations to Elliot and his better half.
Feel free to weigh in on these questions below in the comments section.