Eugene Rupinski, Brotherly Game) For a club with such lofty ambitions, how does missing the playoffs for the first two years sit with the fans and what does this mean for the club in general?
Michael Citro, The Mane Land) Well, actually it’s three years, so thanks for depressing me. The quick and easy answer is that it doesn’t sit well with the fans at all. Emotions range from disappointed to downright livid, and quite frankly it has a lot of people looking for a shortcut (looking at you, #KreisOut proponents). My take on this situation is that team ownership decided to blow up a three-year plan halfway through its run when they fired Adrian Heath. Heath was let go following the end of a five-game unbeaten streak with a second-year team that was just starting to turn the corner in terms of depth after a weak expansion year and was still dealing with multiple Designated Player mistakes (IMO) with Bryan Rochez and Carlos Rivas.
When ownership hired Jason Kreis, a coach with a much different philosophy in terms of playing style, team shape, and system of accountability, the reset button had been pushed. The roster as it was needed to be blown up completely and you can’t do that in one or two transfer windows. The loss of Kevin Molino played a role as he quickly became disillusioned with Heath’s sacking and demanded a raise after only one year of production at the MLS level.
So, here we are, in the middle of a rebuild from an initial build that wasn’t even complete yet. Fans are angry and impatient when their team isn’t winning, so that’s how they’re behaving. They’re especially bitter seeing the success of Atlanta United and New York City FC, but that’s a product of ignoring those clubs’ resources, which are substantial. For my part, I’m trying to be more patient and hoping that if things get blown up again, at least they get a chance to run their course first. This means at least one more transfer window for Kreis and, in my opinion, preferably two. If by the end of 2018 this team still hasn’t made significant progress, it’ll be time for yet a third plan already.
tBG) Kaka has been synonymous with Orlando City since day one in MLS. What does his leaving mean for the direction of the team?
TML) It means a few things. The first is that Jason Kreis won’t be pressured into playing the league’s highest-paid player. In 2017 it became obvious that two teams were getting worse results with aging midfielders on the pitch. Patrick Vieira stopped playing Andrea Pirlo and it yielded results. But Kaká generally played when healthy despite the team being better when he was out of the lineup. Those results aren’t all the captain’s fault. He played hard and he either scored or assisted on goals. It could just be that at his age he’s not a good fit for what Kreis wants to do.
The second thing it means is that Orlando City has turned the page and it’s a new era. New players will be looked to for leadership and also for production. We’re already seeing an incredible amount of touches over the course of a game for Yoshimar Yotun. The club will need to find more guys with high motors and quality like Yotun, Scott Sutter, and mid-season acquisition Dom Dwyer to get to the next level.
tBG) Not to go there, but Orlando got OCSC when the Austin Aztex left town. With what's going on with the Columbus Crew looking likely to bolt to Austin, how do you balance being empathetic with Crew fans against how you got your team?
TML)That’s an interesting question and one I’ve thought a lot about. Phil Rawlins saw no viable path to MLS while in Austin, so for Anthony Precourt to think it’s the next big thing is a bit curious to me. Austin itself has had issues galore with its teams, including ongoing stadium problems forcing the team to suspend play from 2016 on. When viewed in those terms, Rawlins really had little choice in leaving Austin as it seemed for all the world like a dead end.
Despite what Precourt says, I am not convinced that the stadium won’t continue to be an issue. The city hasn’t shown a willingness to put resources into such an effort in the past and even though Precourt says the building will be more than half funded privately, I have my doubts about it. Because Columbus is my hometown, I have very strong feelings in keeping the Crew there. As a traditionalist and someone who respects the league’s heritage, it offends me that Precourt is willing to move a founding member of the league.
But, while I sympathize with Aztex fans who lost their team to Orlando – and let’s be honest, there weren’t tons of them to begin with – I can’t really apologize for being glad the Lions are here. I had no control over how they came into existence. And I would imagine the soccer fans in Austin wouldn’t feel guilty for more than a minute if the Crew move there, because it would be a major league sports entity in their city, something they’ve probably wanted for quite some time. I kind of look at it this way: I'm not crazy about the fact that the cow had to die, but I’m still going to enjoy my steak.
Injuries, suspensions, etc. : Cristian Higuita (calf) is out. Cyle Larin (hip flexor) is questionable. I believe Will Johnson is suspended for yellow card accumulation but I can't tell if the MLS website is up to date.
Projected starting XI: I’m really on the fence on Larin, since he seems to be about 50/50. On one hand, there’s no reason to risk playing him in a meaningless game. On the other, it’s a chance for him to score a goal and remind those looking to buy a target striker that he’s good at soccer and they should make an offer for him. In the end, I’ll say he doesn’t play, so you should definitely bet large sums of money that he will.
Joe Bendik; Donny Toia, Jonathan Spector, Seb Hines, Scott Sutter; Yoshimar Yotun, Giles Barnes, Servando Carrasco, Antonio Nocerino; Carlos Rivas, Dom Dwyer.