As Orlando City fans, we’ve grown accustomed to winning trophies over the past four seasons. The Lions have captured two playoff championships (2011, 2013) and three regular season titles (2011, 2012 and 2014) in that short span of time.
That’s a lot of hardware in a short period.
However, if the club is going to continue collecting shiny new objects for the trophy case, it is going to have to buck the trend of recent expansion history.
Looking back at the most recent five teams to join MLS—Seattle, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Portland and Montreal—only the Sounders have finished as high as third in their conference in their inaugural year. Only Portland has won its conference since joining MLS, having accomplished that feat last season—its third year in the league.
Seattle has had the most overall success of any of the recent additions to the league. The Sounders have won four Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups and have consistently reached the playoffs, but they are still searching for their first MLS Cup appearance.
Montreal and Seattle are the only new clubs since 2009 to win as many as 12 games in their first season. Montreal went 12-16-6 in 2012 and Seattle posted a 12-7-11 record in ’09. Portland also reached double figures in wins in its inaugural year, going 11-14-9 in 2011, but finishing only sixth in the Western Conference.
Philadelphia mustered a paltry record of 8-15-7 in 2010, finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference, and Vancouver was even worse in 2011, with a ninth place conference finish at 6-18-10.
Orlando City fans are excited about the prospect of watching Kaká and whoever else Adrian Heath can put around him on the pitch. But the truth is that NYCFC is probably bringing in the better designated player in David Villa. We hope Kevin Molino’s skills will translate to MLS, but we haven’t seen it yet. At this point, we really have no idea what the team will even look like next season, let alone how it will perform.
But, if the recent past is any indication, the reality is that City fans should expect about nine or 10 wins, and a conference finish between sixth and seventh place next season. The playoffs will likely be beyond the grasp of our purple-clad warriors.
It’s hard to make the jump to a higher division in any league, which is why promoted teams in Europe are generally in a season-long battle just to keep from being relegated the next year.
None of the last five new MLS teams have reached the MLS Cup Final yet. Even Portland’s conference-winning club of last year only reached the Western Conference Semifinals, where it was trounced by Real Salt Lake by a 5-2 aggregate.
It takes time to take a club from expansion to winner. But I believe in City’s manager and front office to build this team the right way.
You never know. Anything’s possible. But the past tells us it’s probably wise to be patient.