Staff Roundtable: Preparing for MLS

The Mane Land is putting together a crackerjack staff of Orlando City fans with knowledge and the ability to write. We have recently introduced you to the two new guys, Kevin and John. Now we thought it was time to let you know a little about how they think about soccer, Orlando City, and MLS—a peek inside their personalities and thought processes, if you will.

I asked Andrew, Joseph, Kevin and John for their thoughts, which you can read below. Also, you should follow them on Twitter if you aren’t already (click their names in the previous sentence for the links).

What positions do you think Adrian Heath will make his priority in the MLS Expansion Draft?

Kevin: I think the easy pick here is a striker. Orlando City has really struggled to find a consistent striker this year, and over the past few years with some notable exceptions (Dwyer and Luzunaris). We should be looking for a player that can both finish the chances created by our midfielders and wingbacks, while also playing as a target player who creates chances for teammates like Kaka and Kevin Molino. However, as with a draft, you really have to go with the best available players. New York City FC has secured playmakers and a notable striker, so the competition in this draft might be for defenders. The defender situation is tricky for Orlando because we have a lot of youthful talent, but not a lot of MLS-level experience. That factor alone could push us to aim for a solid central defender early in the draft.

Andrew: The better question is what positions won’t Heath focus on? That said, I think Heath should and will target veteran defenders. The model should be 2014 DC United. United brought in Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, and Jeff Parke, after an abysmal three-win 2013. Flash forward just one season, and DC has the best record in the east heading into the playoffs, and Boswell is the team captain.

In particular, center back is probably the position on the field that takes the longest to master. There are plenty of solid U-21 wingers and strikers in the world, but very few successfully play CB at that age. Tommy Redding, our 17-year-old HGP, looks to be a good player. However, I don’t believe he’s ready for regular MLS minutes quite yet. There also won’t be many MLS-ready CBs in the Superdraft. Look for City to try and select two starting CBs here.

Joseph: Looking at the players Orlando City has on the books currently, the easy answer would be striker or goalkeeper. I would prefer the club to take the approach of picking the best player available regardless of position, but fortunately we could luck out that the best player available fills one of the club’s needs. A player like Mike Magee or Eddie Johnson would be ideal, but if a young talented keeper like Zac MacMath is unprotected, the club would have a tough choice on their hands.

John: A big hole on Heath’s roster is up top, and the MLS Expansion Draft is a great opportunity to acquire a proven MLS goal scorer. However, I am a firm believer in building a team from the back. While Adrian Heath has some positive attacking threats surging from his midfield, he will need to build defensive stability if he wants Orlando’s first season to be a success.

Will anyone from the SuperDraft be able to come in and make an immediate impact with Orlando City in 2015?

John: If history is any indication, a few of Orlando City’s draft picks will make a significant contribution to their inaugural season. With the number one spot, there is potential to grab talent for the future and, more importantly, for the present.

Kevin: That really is the million-dollar question isn’t it? Being able to pick first means if there is a gem in this draft they should end up on our roster. The rising level of talent in the league since the last expansion drafts could mean there is more talent to be had in the mix as well. I think the talent and the takeaway from the Expansion Draft is going to be the solidification of a lineup with some MLS experience. Orlando’s scouting and networking might be where any real game-changing off-season player additions come into play. A second Designated Player would have to be the right player.

Andrew: Sure, why not? I think this is where we go with older players coming out of college, rather than younger, developmental projects. With 17/18-year-olds Rafael, Redding, and Turner already signed on the backline, we should focus on 21/22-year-olds who have played for a few years in college.

Enter Nick Besler, Notre Dame senior and younger brother of USMNT defender Matt Besler. The younger Besler plays a central midfield role for Notre Dame, and could easily slot into the back two in Orlando’s 4-2-3-1 system. He compares to Perry Kitchen or a Wil Trapp type, not to mention he has the family pedigree, and brings name recognition that Orlando’s PR folks will surely appreciate. As a bonus, we should be able to trade down from No. 1 pick to select Besler, which could net us an extra first- or second-round pick.

Joseph: I can’t see anyone making a huge impact beyond just squad depth. Joshua Yaro, the defender from Georgetown, could be a player that surprises and becomes a regular in the side, however.

Does Orlando City’s success hinge on Kaka staying healthy throughout the season?

Must Kaka stay healthy for Orlando City to have a shot at the playoffs?
Must Kaka stay healthy for Orlando City to have a shot at the playoffs?

Joseph: I wouldn’t say it hinges on his health but it would be crazy to say the side would be fine without him. If Kaka is available for 75 % of the MLS games I would consider that a healthy season.

John: I, for one, certainly hope not. Of course Kaka is a great asset that can be huge for any team, but any time your whole season rides upon the shoulders of one player, you need to be worried. Adrian Heath has done an excellent job at building a cohesive and complete squad while in USL Pro and I expect him to do the same as he begins to build a squad for MLS.

Kevin: Our first season is going to be a roller coaster ride no matter how you look at it. Kaka staying off the bench is just one of a multitude of storylines that will dictate our success. How well we can integrate the culture and attitude of the USL team with the new picks-ups from various drafts, and how well the younger players rise to the challenge of MLS will be vital to this season. With that said, a player with Kaka’s ability and importance means keeping him on the field is the difference maker between an “also ran” first year adventure and challenging for a playoff spot.

 Andrew: In a sense, I think it does. Kaka needs to make this his team for the massive investment City made to be worth it. It’s a blank canvas right now, and the Brazilian needs to make the team’s style of play work for him. To do this, he’s going to have to play regularly.

Obviously he’ll be in a different position, but I’d really like to see Kaka have the same kind of impact that Thierry Henry had for NYRB. The Frenchman has made 122 appearances in four years, and, watching that team play, it’s clear that the team has evolved to suit his style of play. Kaka needs to have that same sort of impact on City, and to do that, he’s got to play. That said, Heath should do everything in his power to keep him happy, healthy, and motivated, so expect the occasional rest day.

What are your expectations for the 2015 season? History suggests the Lions will finish outside the playoff picture. Does Orlando City buck the trend?

Andrew: No, I don’t think so. This is a much better league than it was in 2011, when Portland and Vancouver entered, and neither of those teams was even able to break .500. First off, I’ve touched on this before, but the youth development movement in MLS has reached a new zenith this year. Almost every team has a Yedlin, a Zardes, or a Hamid starting every match. Orlando City simply doesn’t have that. Turner and Redding are great-looking HGP prospects, but they’re just too young to have that kind of impact in MLS. I hope that City goes out and spends on two more DPs, or maybe even brings in a USMNT vet or two. Even with that though, I’d be hugely surprised if they make the MLS playoffs.

John: Expansion teams have qualified for playoffs in their inaugural season before, so why not Orlando City? The Eastern Conference has not been this wide open in a long time, and City has a unique opportunity to establish itself as a playoff team right out of the gate. The last MLS expansion team to make the playoffs their first year just won the Supporters Shield, so let’s hope we can follow suit.

Joseph: My expectations won’t be fully formed until the roster is completely fleshed out. As of right now they are high, but I’m trying to keep them in check. Orlando City certainly has the resources to buck the trend and qualify for the playoffs on their maiden voyage.

Kevin: This answer is going to sound totally hometown, but I think Orlando makes the playoffs for two reasons. First, this club has done extensive research. The connections with clubs all over the soccer playing world, our MLS connections with Kansas City, and extensive understanding of the transition of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver from lower leagues to MLS all mean Orlando should know exactly what they are walking into. I can’t imagine being any better prepared for this move. Second, Orlando has built a winning culture; this isn’t a club here to help make up the numbers. I still have one of Adrian Heath’s press conference tirades burned into my memory from a game they won! He verbally deconstructed the team for a game they won easily, but lazily. I don’t think the supporters are “fair-weather” fans by a long shot, but I do think they expect the club to perform and will push them to do so from the start. Collectively the management and supporters will expect success.

Is it playoffs or bust, or can the 2015 season be considered a success even if the Lions don’t make it?

Kevin: Nobody remembers how well Cinderella danced once she got to the ball. Orlando City is a Cinderella story, if there are such things in professional sports anymore. We are at the big dance where nobody thought we would be, and we arrived before our rival Southeastern cities, Atlanta and Miami. This season is going to be a summer-long party, win or lose. With that said, I am going to stand by my above statement: Orlando City makes the playoffs. If we don’t make it, all is not lost. A few big wins, a nice U.S. Open Cup run, maybe the sparks of rivalry from our expansion mates NYCFC or our former partners in Kansas City will make the season successful enough to build off of and give the supporters something to smile about.

Andrew: PLAYOFFS?! You kidding me?! Don’t talk about PLAYOFFS! 2015 is absolutely not a playoff-or-bust year for Orlando. In fact, as long as we manage to win more than three or four matches, I don’t think our record will matter at all. This season should be measured on two things: attendance and jersey sales. This team has committed ownership and the wins will come. This year is about building the fan base and making sure the Lions become a major and lasting institution in Orlando.

Joseph: It is not playoffs-or-bust in my mind for the 2015 MLS season to be a success. Rome was not built in a day and, while I would love to see the club hit the ground running and take the league by storm, I would consider the season a success if the side is competitive consistently throughout the season. Ideally, take some scalps off of the big boys in the league, but the most important thing for me is to establish a fortress at home. I want to see Orlando become a place where no team expects to visit and come away with three points.

John: On the field, yes. Off the field, no. Orlando should look to make the playoffs and much of their season will depend on achieving that goal. However, there are other ways to succeed. Look at Portland’s inaugural season, for example. They failed to make the playoffs, but established a fan base and atmosphere that very few could rival in the league. While silverware is the ultimate goal, creating the right club culture and identity can be equally as important in the long term success of team.

Well, now you’ve got our staff’s answers. what do you think? Tell us in the comments below.


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