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Orlando City Soccer – 2016 Review
By Nigel G. Worrall
A season that promised so much for Orlando City Soccer Club ultimately fizzled out for both its MLS side and the newly formed Orlando Pride.
Coming into the season hopes were very high for both teams. When the MLS side took two wins and two draws from their opening four games, including a superb thumping of defending MLS Champions Portland Timbers 4-0 at home as well as an excellent away victory over New York City FC, followed by the Pride winning their first four home games, things looked well on track for an exciting season.
Sadly it all fell away and disappointment again confronted the superb set of supporters who provided the second largest crowd attendance in both MLS and the NWSL.
Today we’ll review the MLS season and tomorrow we’ll reflect on the Pride’s first season of operation.
Orlando City Soccer MLS 2016 Season
No-one except the powers that be will ever know what damage the pre-season shenanigans of hiring and then firing former Portuguese soccer club executive Armando Carneiro as Chief Soccer Officer to oversee all of soccer operations actually had, but it seemed from that point on, a huge cloud hung over Head Coach Adrian Heath (pictured above).
The City of Orlando was still coming to terms with the 12th June massacre at Pulse nightclub when the much loved Heath was dismissed at 9.10pm on 6th July. It was a bitter pill for the fans to swallow as the only coach they had ever known was pushed out of a job after doing so much to get the club to where it currently was. From that point on, it is safe to say, the season went steadily downhill.
It was a bad week for Orlando City as just a few days earlier, on 1st July the club agreed to let influential midfielder Adrian Winter leave for family reasons. To that point, Winter had been a key figure and his infectious enthusiasm was greatly missed by the team thereafter.
On 19th July the club appointed former New York City FC Head Coach Jason Kreis (pictured above) as the new man in charge after a short stint at the helm by stand in assistant coach Bobby Murphy.
History will show that Orlando ended the season in 8th place and that they missed out on the play offs by a point. The reality is far from the illusion that the team was close to success though, as it simply wasn’t good enough from the time Kreis took over until the season finale.
Heath’s record was 4 wins, 8 draws and 4 losses in 16 games amassing 20 pts along the way. The team scored 28 goals and conceded 29. Under Kreis the team managed 5 wins 3 draws and 6 losses in 14 games while scoring 23 goals and allowing 25.
In saying that, stats can lie and but for the final two victories achieved in the last two games when play-off hopes had been eliminated, Kreis’s record was considerably worse than Heath’s.
In assessing the season as a whole, the biggest failure that the club had was failing to do anything about the defensive frailties that were exposed time and time again. The club had the worst goals against record in the entire MLS as they conceded 60 goals.
While Heath had built a side that rarely lost, it also gave vital points away conceding silly late goals. Ultimately, it was those goals that cost Heath his job and when Kreis came in it was expected that he would immediately tighten up the defensive side of the team.
Sadly though, the opposite happened. Orlando went on a run of 10 games where it won three, lost five and drew two. In that time it scored 17 goals but shipped 22 in at the other end including three games on the trot where it let in 4 goals a game. The first time in franchise history it had suffered that fate.
That proved to be the run that cost the team a play off spot. After a superb 4-1 victory in Montreal that proved to be a false dawn, it then lost 4-2 away at LA Galaxy, 4-1 at home to Columbus and 4-1 at D.C. United. After that miserable spell, all confidence drained from the team and the season effectively came to an end when it lost 1-0 at home to Montreal some three weeks before the official season end.
The two end of season victories that came subsequently glossed over the real story that Orlando simply couldn’t defend.
So, was it the right move to replace Adrian Heath? The answer from the comfort of seeing how the season played out was “No.”
Kreis was averaging a point a game until the last two games of the season and given the club wasn’t actually losing too much under Heath (1.25 pts / game), it seems easy to opine that the team’s owners made the wrong decision from a footballing point of view. From an emotional point of view, not to mention how the decision was actually handled, the club got it absolutely wrong in how it went about things and that can only give fans cause to worry about whether the club will make the right decisions going into next season.
Moving Forward to 2017
At this stage of the year there is always much speculation as to the future of the players and what the Head Coach will try to do.
It’s obvious that work needs to be done on the defensive unit. Good football teams always used to be built from the back forwards and a tight knit unit is the only way to guarantee future success. Naturally that leaves questions about every single defender at the club and the role they have to play going forward as clearly the evidence from the 2016 season suggests they weren’t good enough.
The midfield is also a cause for concern as too often their approach of playing tippy tappy soccer led to mistakes and opportunities for their opponents that stretched their own defense to breaking point.
Upfront, there isn’t too much to worry about unless key players depart. The combination of Cyle Larin, Kaká and Kevin Molino (pictured above) is a good one as City’s 55 goals ranked third-best in MLS. Larin continued his development well scoring 14 goals while Molino added 11 goals and eight assists and Kaká turned in nine goals and 10 assists.
As for the other attackers, Carlos Rivas finished the season on a high note but it remains to be seen if he did enough for Kreis while Julio Baptista appears to be heading out of the door, despite his six goals from cameo appearances, given the way he celebrated on Sunday evening when scoring the final goal of the 2016 MLS campaign.
It’s always interesting to speculate on the players who will remain and those who will depart as the team moves into its new stadium to start the 2017 but here’s our best guess:
Joe Bendik, Mikey Ambrose, Servando Carrasco, Cristian Higuita, Kaká, Cyle Larin, Kevin Molino, Matías Pérez García, Rafael Ramos, Tommy Redding
Kevin Alston, Júlio Baptista, Luke Boden, Seb Hines, Pedro Ribeiro, Tony Rocha, Bryan Róchez, Brek Shea, Tyler Turner
José Aja, David Mateos, Antonio Nocerino, Carlos Rivas
Players we’d like to see come in are two or three top quality central defenders, a left back, a dominating central midfielder, a right and left sided midfielder and two strikers to take some of the burden off Cyle Larin (pictured above). Asking a 21 year old to lead the line all on his own three seasons running is unfair to the player. Some fans are under the ridiculous illusion that Larin is lazy but what they don’t spot is the unselfish work he does making runs to open gaps as well as being kicked and man handled by some very experienced defenders.
Larin has the most difficult job on the pitch and the fact he has 31 goals from 59 appearances is testament to the remarkable work he does for his team. One can only reflect that if he hadn’t delivered who knows how well the team would actually have done over the last two years? In 2017 Larin needs some quality help and he needs an experienced striker alongside him to guide him through those moments of frustration that he has from time to time and that he has demonstrated in the past season.
Player of the Season:
Joe Bendik (pictured above) . But for his second in the league total of 113 saves of which 11 were voted save of the week, the defensive story would be so much worse.
And so we move on. Another season is in the bag and we must not forget that it takes time to build a winning formula. The move to a grass surface in the new purpose built stadium will be good news for the players and hopefully, the noise created in the stands will filter down to the field to give the team what will feel like a man advantage. The 2017 season starts in March but between now and then much work needs to be done both on and off the field.
The club hasn’t reached its objective in its first two years of reaching the play offs but we believe it needs to take the pressure off that target. Getting to the play offs is not success unless you then go on to win the Championship. Frankly, it’s something of a red herring that a whole season can revolve around the perceived success target simply being the play offs. It’s time to raise the bar and aim higher. The club aims to defy expectations so why not aim to win the whole darned thing in 2017?
If the ownership and team management does the right things this Winter break, the play offs will take care of themselves.
This is Orlando and settling for less just doesn’t seem right. 2016 may have been a write off season and one for development but 2017 can be so much better. We can but hope!