Let me start with this: Orlando City, whatever happens this season, means business.
The club made headline news with its “promotion” (as much as bidding for an MLS franchise is a promotion) to MLS in 2015. The team had previously had large amounts of success in the USL Pro league, where the MLS’ secondary team “Orlando City B” now plays. Then they signed Kaka.
The rest is, or will be, something that goes down in history. Especially for the soccer crazy fans in the sunshine state.
Let’s take one more trip back down memory lane for the MLS expansion side: Fill the Bowl
March 8, 2015. was a day those in attendance, and those who spectated over television, will remember forever. 62,510 City fans flooded the Orlando Citrus Bowl for OCSC’s first game against fellow expansion-side New York City FC. That 62.5k fan was the largest ever for a soccer game at the Orlando Citrus Bowl (which has hosted World Cup matches in the past, boasting large turnouts). It was also the second largest opening weekend for an MLS franchise.
Needless to say, the Orlando soccer scene is impressive.
That brings me to this: that same Orlando team that seemed to start off so well, and then sputter lower, and eventually raise back up to barely missing the MLS Cup playoffs just last year, has now begun another ascension. The real question is: Will it last?
More on that in a minute,
Orlando is also celebrating it’s inaugural season for their new stadium, where they now have an unbeaten record (knock on wood). It’s also the inaugural season for the Orlando Pride, a team in the National Women’s Soccer League. As well as that, Orlando City B, now plays in the same league that once allowed the team’s namesake squad to bloom under former head coach Adrian Heath.
It’s a big time for Orlando soccer.
After numerous amounts of changes made in the offseason, new head coach Jason Kreis (who came from a very successful tenure at Real Salt Lake), seems to have all of the gears in the machine clicking.
Last year’s defense (one of the worst in the MLS) is now clicking on all cylinders. The attacking core is thriving to new heights fueled by Cyle Larin (the 22 year old Canadian who was Orlando’s 1st overall pick in the MLS Superdraft during their first season in the league), who has put six goals into the net in just five games.
And the craziest thing of all?
Superstar Ricardo Kaka isn’t even playing, as he’s been out with an injury since 11 minutes into the first game of the season.
The midfield has clicked without him though, as Servando Carrasco has thrived playing in the winger position in some games, as well as slotting in to play in the outside mid spot. Will Johnson has also slotted into the system well. The long-time MLS veteran has shown his leadership ability, controlling the field in many of their games thus far. Games that have included the likes of MLS new-comer Romain Allessandrini, perrenial superstar Andrea Pirlo, amongst many of the league’s best midfielders.
Giles Barnes, Antonio Nocerino, Servando Carrasco and Matias Perez Garcia have also slotted into their roles in the midfield well, impressing many with their great performances. The Orlando City side has played in Kreis’ typical 4-4-2 diamond formation again, and though it’s a traditional formation, Kreis has shown to still be the micromanaging genius that many have called him in the past, utilizing the full depth of his squad.
The defense, which was one of the worst in the MLS last year, is now thriving behind the likes of newcomers Johnathon Spector and Jose Aja. This defense, though it is still giving up a decently high amount of goals, even with one of (arguably) the best performing goalkeepers in Major League Soccer right now, Joe Bendik, playing like a proverbial brick-wall behind them.
However, Orlando was one of the top goal-scoring teams last season, but struggled to close out games with a shaky defense (most of the players whom manned it, now being gone through trade or release). Now though, the offense has been able to open up large amounts of space in the midfield area, and been able to control posession, and not just rely on Cyle Larin to create his own goals. If this trend continues, don’t be surprised if you see the Lions in the playoffs this year, and with a really good seeding to boot.
To me, don’t even be surprised to see them have a good, solid run in the playoffs this year, fueled by the home-field advantage provided by their new stadium, and radical fan base. If you haven’t gotten the chance to watch this team yet, especially at home, take it from me: do it. Soon.
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