First came an off-season that was plagued by front office turmoil. It was centered around the hiring of Armando Carneiro as Chief Soccer Officer on November 3rd. Carneiro directed Portuguese club Benfica‘s academy from 2010-15 and was put in charge of soccer operations for the first team, Orlando City B of USL, as well as the NWSL‘s Orlando Pride.
Orlando City SC 2016 Season Review
Bringing him in effectively demoted Paul McDonough, the team’s general manager and the man responsible for putting together Orlando’s initial MLS roster. It’s a move that didn’t sit well with McDonough. He eventually left the club to join 2017 MLS expansion side Atlanta United.
But that was just the beginning of this saga. Less than two months into his tenure on December 28th, Carneiro abruptly resigned, citing “personal reasons.” It forced team founder and president Phil Rawlins to assume his role in the organization. Still, it remained to be seen whether or not these inner workings within the front office was going to impact the team’s on-field performance.
Either way, things got off to a rough start. The Lions started the 2016 season with a 2-3-5 mark through their first ten games. And after an embarrassing 4-0 loss to FC Dallas on July 4th, the club found themselves with just four wins in 16. It led to another tough decision from the Orlando City brass.
Two days later, Adrian Heath was out as head coach. It came as a fairly surprising move considering he had been with the club since its founding as the Austin Aztex in 2008. But Rawlins and owner Flavio Augusto da Silva felt an infusion of fresh energy was necessary.
It came in the form of Jason Kreis, who the club hired two weeks later. Kreis is well-known for leading Real Salt Lake to an MLS Cup title in 2009. But more recently, he was fired by New York City FC after a 10-17-7 record in his only year as head coach.
Orlando came out hot with Kreis at the helm. His first game in charge resulted in a 3-1 win over New England and the Lions would lose just two of their next six. But then came a five-game winless skid that saw them concede four goals in three consecutive matches. The club would finish strong, though, winning their final two and finishing just a point out of the playoffs.
What Went Right
Quality in the final third of the field is not a characteristic this club is devoid of. The Lions scored 55 goals in 2016, a total bested only by the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. You read that right. Despite missing the playoffs, Orlando City finished with more goals than every team in the Western Conference. The club led the league with 38.46 percent of their shots on goal resulting in scores.
The main man up top responsible for a great deal of that production is Cyle Larin. The Canadian international showed little signs of a sophomore slump after being picked first overall in last year’s MLS SuperDraft. Larin found the net 14 times in 2016. Though it was three less than his 17 goal rookie campaign, other players on the roster were able to help him shoulder the goal-scoring burden.
Kevin Molino was particularly noteworthy in that regard. After missing most of last season due to a torn ACL, 2016 was a breakout year of sorts for the OCSC attacking midfielder. Molino finished with 11 goals and showed quite a bit of moxie as a provider as well, adding eight assists. The 26-year-old will undoubtedly continue to be a crucial element within this team’s nucleus moving forward.
Of course, it’s impossible to discuss Orlando City’s dynamism in the final third without mentioning Kaka. The Brazilian icon continued to demonstrate his playmaking prowess in 2016. Though injuries limited him to 23 starts, he still was able to muster nine goals and ten assists on the year. Three of his tallies turned out to be game-winning goals, which led all Orlando City players.
What Went Wrong
As prolific as Orlando City was in the final third, they were equally if not more horrific on the other side of the field. It’s no stretch to say that the Lions’ back line was the leakiest in MLS. Look no further than their 60 goals against in 2016. No other team in the league let in more.
To say that the club didn’t win the trade that sent Aurelien Collin to the New York Red Bulls would be quite the understatement. Orlando received a conditional fourth round pick in next year’s SuperDraft. Collin ended up having a spectacular season with the Red Bulls who would go on to finish first in the Eastern Conference. And statistics site Whoscored.com rated Collin as the second-best center back in the league.
Maintaining disciplined play was an issue all season. The team drew 13.4 fouls per game (fourth worst in MLS) as well as 73 yellow cards (second worst in MLS). And only Kansas City, Philadelphia, Seattle and Columbus had more players sent off.
Heading into his first full season as Orlando City head coach, this coming off-season can aptly be described as make or break for Kreis. Seeing NYCFC vault up to number two in the East in their second year of existence has to be a painful pill to swallow for fans of the Purple and Gold. The pressure will be on for this team to make the playoffs in 2017 after two straight missed postseasons.
Perhaps more than anything, the back line needs to be addressed. You simply can’t give up 1.76 goals per game and expect to contend. Though things improved late in the year, this club will need to prove they can remain stout defensively over the course of an entire season.
Jose Aja was acquired on loan in the summer transfer window and was fairly reliable in central defense. The club may want to try making that a permanent move for next season. But it’s pretty clear that shoring up the back line needs to be one of the top priorities for the front office heading into next year.
Another thing to pay attention to will be Larin. It’s no secret that he has attracted interest from abroad and it might only be a matter of time before a club puts in a lucrative bid. If he departs, finding a dynamic number nine to replace his production in the final third becomes another need to address.
Through two seasons, MLS in central Florida has been hugely successful at the gate. Orlando City’s average attendance figures (32,146) have been second best in the league both years. It’s high time that this incredibly supportive fanbase get rewarded with a winning product on the field.