Happy New Year’s Eve, Mane Landers! Cheers to the last day of 2022 and to 2023. If you are like me, you will be counting sheep far before it is time to count down to midnight, but that doesn’t mean that I like to miss out on the fun. A new year brings with it a renewed sense of purpose and drive, and the start of 2023 also brings with it the next MLS season for your Lions.
We thought it would be fun to take a look at three New Year’s resolutions that Orlando City could and should adopt to kick 2023 off in the right direction.
Re-Establishing Home Field Advantage
For most of the 2022 season, the Lions found themselves among the Eastern Conference’s best teams...when it came to their away record. Sporting a record of 5-6-6 in away games, the Lions collected 21 of their 48 points away from their Central Florida home. Compare that to 20 points earned on the road during the 2021 season and 16 points collected from road matches in the 2019 season before MLS entered the COVID bubble. The secret sauce to making it into the MLS Cup playoffs seems to be tied up in having a strong showing away from home, but the difference between good and great teams is the ability to also protect home field advantage.
Using those same seasons for comparison, Orlando City secured 21 points at home in 2019, 31 at home in 2021, and then saw a recession back to 27 points at home in 2022. Warm temperatures, humidity, thunderstorms and a passionate fan base all can be combined into a force that should give the Lions a leg up when visitors step inside the not-so-friendly confines of Exploria Stadium. If OCSC has aims to not only continue finding its way into the postseason, but also to secure home playoff matches and fight for the Supporters Shield, then the Lions simply have to resolve themselves to earning better results at home. Potential losses need to be turned into draws and would-be draws into wins.
Development, Development, Development
While off-season moves are still not complete and more pieces are certain to be added, the core of Orlando City is returning for the 2023 season. The 2022 campaign saw numerous new players come into the fold in vital areas, bringing in players such as Ercan Kara and Facundo Torres on the attacking side, as well as late additions like Ivan Angulo and Wilder Cartagena. Chemistry is not built out of thin air. It’s hard to establish in-season and is even harder to establish when players miss time due to injuries.
With the exception of some questions regarding the fullback positions and bench depth, the core of the 2023 squad should all be familiar with one another from the start of training camp. If that familiarity and chemistry can continue to develop, then I fully expect the goals allowed to decrease and goals scored to improve year over year.
Development is also important this year when it comes to the health of the club as a whole. Orlando City B will be entering its second season in MLS NEXT Pro, and there are new draft picks as well as promising Homegrown Players who will be looking to develop and take the next steps in their collective careers.
Defend the Cup
While we already touched on the fact that the Lions regressed when it came to home wins in the 2022 MLS regular season, the exact opposite can be said for their improbable and magical run in the U.S. Open Cup. Beneficiaries of the luck of the draw, Orlando City played host to all six U.S. Open Cup matches from their first round match up against the Tampa Bay Rowdies to the victory in front of a sold-out stadium against Sacramento Republic FC. From dominating wins to nail biting moments in extra time and during penalty kicks, the Magic of the Cup was felt throughout Central Florida.
Championships matter, trophies and hardware matter, and — as former New York Jets coach Herm Edwards famously stated — “You play to win the game.” The Seattle Sounders were the last last team to defend their title in the U.S. Open Cup, being crowned champions from 2009-2011. Ask any athlete, coach, or front office staffer about repeating as champions and every single one will tell you that it is no simple feat, which is exactly why the Lions should resolve themselves to defending their title as U.S. Open Cup champions in 2023.
That will do it for me, Mane Landers. What resolutions are you making for yourselves in 2023? What resolutions do you think Orlando City should be dedicated to as the new year and new season rapidly approach?
Have a safe and happy New Year’s Eve and I will talk to you all next year!