The time is now Florida soccer fans. Have you been waiting since 2001 for Major League Soccer to return to the Sunshine State? Were you an Orlando City USL Pro fan? Or perhaps you are an Orlando sports fan. Whatever you may be along that spectrum, Orlando now has an MLS franchise and their journey begins this weekend.
When it comes to the on-field product, you might be optimistic about Orlando’s opening season. You may also find yourself skeptical. Let us first discuss the building blocks of any successful sports franchise excluding quality and talent. You have to have appeal. The Seattle Sounders are a prime example of this. It’s a franchise that has stood out in a lot of ways because of how it’s packaged itself.
Whether it’s signing star players, a promising, fun environment, or something as simple as the team’s style. These aspects are a few reasons why Seattle had the honor of hosting the second highest attendance in MLS history. On Sunday evening, Orlando City have the honor of hosting a record attendance of their own. 62,000 fans are reported to be attending Orlando’s opening season game against New York City FC. Depending on the final attendance number, the attendance for Orlando’s opener will most likely fall into the top fifteen MLS match attendances of all time. Does any of this matter if the team doesn’t perform? Yes but performance is obviously vital.
Walk the Talk or Pounce the Roar
Kaka, Aurelien Collin, Amobi Okugo, whoever you want to mention, there’s a lot of potential in this Orlando City side. However, as much potential as there is, just as many, if not more, questions abound. Starting from the back, Donovan Ricketts is a veteran goalkeeper and will likely only fill in until Tally Hall recovers from injury. At 37, you can justifiably question how much Donovan Ricketts is still capable of in MLS. He hasnt shown many signs of deteriorating but it’s something to be mindful of.
Then, we can discuss the center backs. Collin is a strong presence, one that has the most aerial attempts in the league since 2011, but also one that is coming off what most would label his worst performing year in the league. You then have the likes of Seb Hines and Sean St. Ledger. Seb Hines may be more suited to partner Collin with his speed and different approach but many slate St. Ledger to get the start. A stalwart in the English Championship for years, St. Ledger may be a solid partner for Collin but he may also not since he hasnt been a consistent player for anyone since early 2012, at 30 years old.
Then, you have the expected fullbacks, Brek Shea and Rafael Ramos. Hop-on that hype stair car people. Rafael Ramos is one to watch for this year. Im getting DeAndre Yedlin vibes and it’s near impossible to shake like the first time you watch Oz. If I had to warn of anything, it’d be his lack of experience and age at just twenty years old. On the opposing side, you have Brek Shea. If everyone in the North American soccer community morphed into one colossal soccer intellect, that bizarre being still wouldnt be able to predict how well Brek Shea will do this season. Shea is more comfortable and more adept to playing left wing. He has played enough left back to be pretty decent this season however, whether it be back in his Dallas days, with the US National Team, or in this preseason.
On to the midfield and attack, there is one sure-fire performer and that is former Ballon d’Or winner
Lewis Neal, Kaka. Barring injury issues Kaka will score goals and he will set up goals but the extent of that could be questioned. Meaning, the rest of the team can not depend on him. They can utilize him like any other side utilizes their number ten, but he can not be Adrian Heath’s only point of attack. It will become predictable.
A defensive midfield partnership of Amobi Okugo and Cristian Higuita could give Kaka just what he needs from his holding mids. Kevin Molino is a really exciting aspect to Orlando’s starting eleven as well. Molino and Kaka can and will combine for many goals this season. Molino will likely hold down the right midfield slot.
Some would say left mid and striker are bigger holes than anything Shia Labeouf dug as a kid. Im not sure I dig that argument or that joke however. Many assume Lewis Neal will start the season at left mid while Bryan Rochez starts up top. The corps of attacking players consists of some unproven and young, yet exciting talent. Out of Cyle Larin, Bryan Rochez, Martin Paterson, Danny Mwanga, Tony Cascio, Eric Avila, and Carlos Rivas, someone is bound to perform this season, I think. It’s a lot of potential but is that potential for this season or is it building preparation for upcoming seasons? The other option for the left side, in particular, is to move Brek Shea up and utilize Luke Boden at left back.
Corny Rocky Reference; Adrriiiaan
An Englishman who once played for Manchester City will embark on one of his toughest ventures yet and it starts against Manchester City sister club, New York City FC. Adrian Heath seems composed and ready to take on the task ahead. He, Orlando City fans, is the key. Orlando City have devoted themselves to a specific formula of young, attractive, savvy football it seems. Can Adrian Heath implement it correctly? Orlando City have one of the most promising squads in the league when considering future potential but this season will determine how precise he can be with that kind of squad. If you’re curious as to my personal opinion on the season ahead, I didnt give it for a reason. Watch, enjoy, and find out this season but keep the previous talking points in mind because they will make or break the inaugural season for Orlando City SC.
(image courtesy of Orlando City SC)