Orlando City will be opening their 2019 MLS season at home against an NYCFC team that will experience its first season without David Villa. Orlando City, on the other hand, hope to have finally found their long-awaited replacement for Kaka in Nani. Orlando has just gone through another rebuild this offseason after an extremely disappointing 2018 campaign, which saw them fire Jason Kreis and fell victim to a loss of confidence. Orlando’s hiring of James O’Connor as the next manager appears intriguing consider the recent hirings of international managers such as Tata Martino and Patrick Viera, both of which are no longer with their respective teams. Yet, with the mounting speculation about O’Connor’s capabilities as a manager and the constant upheaval in the squad, OCSC have Their best opportunity to achieve their first playoff appearance since their arrival in the MLS in 2015.
Orlando City has struggled for defensive efficiency since their introduction. Whether be it injury or lackluster play, Orlando has been unable to field a consistent back line. Gone are Johnathon Spector, Amro Tarek, and Scott Sutter while Orlando has introduced Joao Moutinho, and Alex de John in defense. Joe Bendik has been replaced after having received a new contract early on last season. Orlando has recently signed Brian Rowe who will look to bring solidity and leadership in the defensive portion of the pitch. For all their defensive deficiencies last year, the primary source of frustration was Orlando’s lack of creativity and goal scoring opportunities. After the loss of Cyle Larin, who has found little success since his move abroad, Orlando had hoped that Dom Dwyer could fill the void. Dwyer, however, is a completely different striker than Larin who was an imposing figure in the box both vertically and spatially. Dwyer offers the pace to get in behind the defense but Orlando simply lacked the quality to find Dwyer in those positions.
The prospect of a front three with new signing Nani, a more experienced Mueller, and Dwyer is a much more formidable attacking threat. The biggest impact could actually come from Mueller. Most defenses will be aware of the threat that Nani offers in possession and will take measures to prevent his on-ball opportunities. Mueller will need to capitalize on this opportunity. If he can further propel his development with his finishing and passing accuracy, Mueller can push Orlando to score more goals. Dwyer will relish Nani’s skill with the ball and will look play off the ball and experience more freedom in the final third. All of this is speculation, and the first few weeks will be a telling sign as to how O’Connor is able to utilize his front three.
Orlando’s midfield of Christian Higuita, Sacha Kljestan, and Oriol Rosell will represent the backbone of OCSC’s team. Kljestan struggled in his first year with Orlando City. He did manage six goals but it was his lack of assists that was disappointing. He finished with only six assists following three seasons of 17, 20, and 14 from 2015-2017. Sacha was played out-wide on many occasions last year, which could be one explanation for his inability to influence the game. He should be able to find better opportunities to utilize his talents in the middle of the park by picking out Nani, Dwyer, and Mueller. Higuita will need to represent the link between the defense and the attack. He was brilliant with his passing and only needs to continue his form during the season. Higuita must remain imposing with his defensive duties and keep his awareness of the opposition’s positioning.
On paper, Orlando City look like a low seed playoff team at the least. Orlando have looked promising in the lead up to season’s past but would constantly underwhelm the loyal supporter’s. Orlando primarily need consistency. Winning a few games in a row is great, but if it is followed with a losing streak then it means nothing. Orlando needed a reboot. They had to get rid of players who were incapable to be effective pieces of the squad. The club did manage to keep key players from the last season while adding good supplemental pieces, in addition to Nani. Orlando should be thinking with positivity and intensity. They have the quality to create goal scoring opportunities on a regular basis. Defensively remains a question mark but perhaps not so much as in recent years. This OCSC squad is better than last year, more experienced than last year, and hungrier than last year. This is the year the Lions show they are fierce and will get their first MLS playoff appearance in the club’s history.