It was the best of seasons, it was the worst of seasons. Neither of those two statements was correct for Orlando City last season. The Lions won the U.S. Open Cup but didn’t make much noise in the playoffs. Winning a trophy was important, but the club and its supporters want more.
That got me wondering what some realistic expectations could be for the Lions. I pose this question because I have found that whatever I approach in life, I’m generally happier and more satisfied if I have set rational, reasonable, and realistic expectations upon whatever it is I’m dealing with. Let’s look ahead to the 2023 season for Orlando City.
The Lions will be defending their U.S. Open Cup championship. The club will also be playing in the Concacaf Champions League, and will of course be trying to qualify for, and make a deep run into, the MLS playoffs. The 2023 season will be Oscar Pareja’s fourth with the club, and he has now had enough time to put his culture into this team. Success demands more success, and with the club’s first MLS-era trophy secured, the expectation will be to make a serious run through the playoffs.
Working in Pareja’s favor is the expected return of players like Ercan Kara, Facundo Torres, Cesar Araujo, Mauricio Pereyra, and the center back pairing of Antonio Carlos and Robin Jansson. Of course, the club has also lost several players with the departure of Joao Moutinho, Junior Urso, and Andres Perea. We’re still waiting to hear about Pedro Gallese’s status. Replacing Moutinho, and keeping Gallese will be key to success in 2023.
Given all of this, what can we reasonably expect from Orlando City next year? Repeating as U.S. Open Cup champions will be difficult given that there are going to be more matches to play thanks to the Champions League. The last club to repeat was the Seattle Sounders in 2009, 2010, and 2011, so it’s been a while. Orlando City also has a tough draw in the Champions League with Tigres from Liga MX. The Lions will need similar luck to their 2022 U.S. Open Cup run to win the Champions League.
That leaves the MLS Cup. Pareja has led the club to the playoffs three straight years. In 2020, the club advanced on penalty kicks against New York City FC, but ultimately lost to New England. In 2021 and 2022, the Lions crashed out in the first round to Nashville and Montreal, respectively. The post-season goal will entail making the Eastern Conference final, which is something the club has yet to achieve.
I know this will sound defeatist, but realistically I don’t expect Orlando City to repeat as U.S. Open Cup champions, nor do I expect the Lions to win the Concacaf Champions League. I think the team will make the Eastern Conference semifinals, but that will be the end of it. Winning either of the additional competitions, or MLS Cup, is absolutely the goal, but there are many challenges to achieving any of the three, let alone all of them.
There are still positions that need starters, let alone more depth, if the club is hoping to make deep runs in the three competitions. There is the schedule congestion that will certainly impact the club if the quality of depth players isn’t addressed. There is also the luck — including injury luck — needed to win a trophy in any professional sport.
Can Orlando City win one or all of these trophies? Yes. Is it realistic to expect the club will do so? I’m afraid not. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.