Orlando City Soccer talks up 2018 MLS season

Filed under: Florida News,Major League Soccer,Orlando City Soccer,Orlando Sport |

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Orlando City Soccer held it’s media day on Monday and City CEO Alex Leitão together with Head Coach Jason Kreis discussed several important topics in a 25 minute press conference that was packed with talking points.

The team’s top brass talked about their hopes for the 2018 MLS season, the moves made in and out of the club during the close season, the new players now at the club, the future for development of players and the new training facility as well as the hot topic at the present moment which saw the club’s top goalscorer head to Turkey in somewhat controversial circumstances.

The press conference opened with both Leitão and Kreis giving their thoughts on the forward momentum of the club and their hopes for it now that a new direction has been ordained.

The leadership then talked to us about the changes to the academy system and the reasons why they decided not to let OCB play in USL in 2018.

The hot topic of the day that aroused some interesting remarks from Leitão was the move by Cyle Larin to Turkish Süper Lig side Beşiktaş.

To wrap things up we asked Jason Kreis about the changes in tactics over the last decade in Major League Soccer.

Obviously some interesting content in the videos and both Leitão and Kreis should be given credit for their willingness to discuss these matters openly and honestly. In recent months the club has really struggled to get its message out to fans and many have been left bewildered by some of the decisions. It was refreshing to see both men willing and able to open up to questions and to tackle the subjects that supporters wanted answering.

Of course, the Larin saga was the really big topic and the manner of his departure has obviously left a sour taste behind. Leitão’s words were compelling and it’s not often you will find a CEO of a football club branding around words like “troublemaker” and “unprofessional” in the direction of  player who has topped the goal scoring charts in each of the three seasons he has been at the club. Leitão also accused Larin of not respecting the club and to some degree he is right given the manner the transfer was orchestrated by the player and his agent.

It’s a sad turn of events and one that no doubt everyone regrets. Naturally, there are two and in this case, probably three sides to the story. One day Larin or his agent may give their version but the charge by Leitão of Larin not respecting the club doesn’t particularly sit well given some of the things that have happened in 2017.

For a start it is well known that Larin never saw his long term future in Orlando and that maybe was one of the reasons why the club deliberately kept his salary low. In 2015, according to data released by Major League Soccer, Larin earned a base of $125,000 and a guaranteed salary of $167,000. Larin made 28 total appearance scoring 18 goals. Normally that harvest would see any other leading goalscorer in world soccer being cherished and urged to sign a long term contract. That didn’t happen in the case of Cyle Larin.

Orlando City Soccer 6 Puerto Rico National Team 1, Orlando City Soccer Stadium, Orlando, 4th November 2017 (Photographer: Nigel G Worrall)

In his third and what has now turned out to be his final season with the Lion’s, Larin’s salary was just $150,000 base salary with a guarantee of $192,000. The man from Ontario scored a total of 48 goals in 94 appearances for the Lions, a very significant return for a player who cost next to nothing. Now, putting yourself in Larin’s shoes for a moment and having just become the top goal scorer for the club for a third time in a row, unprecedented for a Generation Adidas player, isn’t it just possible that the young Canadian felt a little disrespected himself?

I’d say so and when you consider that other top goalscorers are earning many times that amount in MLS not to mention the $7,167,500 that his teammate Kaká earned, it’s not hard to understand where Cyle may have been coming from.

Then you have to look to the events of the Summer and his driving while under the influence charge. This was something the club handled badly and it was a situation that showed the club’s inexperience in dealing with such situations. At the very least a lawyer should have been by his side and it wouldn’t have gone amiss had a senior member of the executive team accompanied him when we walked out of the jail but instead, the 22 year old was left to fend for himself and it’s not beyond reason that the Canadian would question himself as to whether the club really did care about him?

Overall the whole situation has been unsavory and it is regrettable that the club has decided to attack the player as he departs instead of taking the high morale ground and wishing him all the best for the future. In life people make mistakes and there is no doubt there is a lot of blame to be attached to the way Larin and his advisor engineered the move. It’s understandable that team management have raw feelings, but one can’t help but feel it would have been better to acknowledge the contribution the player made, wish him well and keep any personal feelings entirely private.

So with that out of the way, there is a new season to look forward to and there can be no mistake this time around that this is Kreis’s team. On 19th July 2016 the Omaha, Nebraska native was appointed Head Coach by the men in purple and only six players have been left standing. Goalkeepers Joe Bendik and Earl Edwards Jr., defender José Aja and midfielders Cristian Higuita, Richie Laryea and Tony Rocha are all that remain of the squad Kreis inherited from Adrian Heath. At least 25 players have come and gone since then and much will be expected of the team after a particularly poor 2017 season.

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In the close season, the club also announced some changes to how they intend to develop future players. The biggest change came with the announcement that OCB, the club’s second string team, would not play in the United Soccer League (USL) in 2018. The club also announced that it is completely restructuring its academy system and changing the focus away from development within the competitive environment that is USL, at least for one season.

In moving to the Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy (S.I.M.A.) the club seems confident that it can offer young players a better environment in which to prosper. As Leitão says the club has doubled its investment and that the club can now offer developing players a residential academy with full scholarship and infrastructure, coaches with a License A as well as better all round facilities.

The interesting point was that Leitão said that the club really only wanted to play the youngsters in USL last season but with USL now moving its structure and development given the influx of teams into the league it simply doesn’t seem the right fit for the clubs U-19 players for 2018. It seems that this situation is one that will continue to develop as the club decides the best way forward in trying to develop its own homegrown players.

One things is for sure, many youngsters did get valuable experience playing with and against some very experienced professionals in USL in 2017 but now that has gone away, there are some big questions about the future of those particular young players. Kreis commented that the club is trying to find a solution by possibly partnering with a USL club to give those players more game time.

It remains to be seen and now that the situation has been explained, it seems clear that the club is prepared to look at things in a different light while the various leagues in US soccer evolve. There’s not really much to argue with in that respect and while many fans thought it was a cost cutting exercise, it isn’t necessarily so.

The fact remains that few people will actually miss OCB. Attendance was sadly very poor in 2017 and while questions could be asked about the marketing, or lack of it, that went into promoting the team, the real decision was made because the management at Orlando City don’t believe USL is the right fit at this stage in time. It’s a reasonable point.

So, we look forward to 3rd March and a new look Orlando City Soccer Club. One that has some exciting talent on board including the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram, Dom Dwyer and exciting young prospect Josué Colmán. There may also be another signing as Kreis strongly hinted he expected another deal to be done very shortly in terms of another defender coming into the club.

Orlando City fans have much to look forward to in 2018 and hopefully the club will emerge stronger and better after a winter of turmoil. It seems everyone at the club is pulling in the same direction and that was a real point of optimism to emerge during the clubs media day. The time for talking is nearly done. Bring on the action!

 

 

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