Orlando came into the season with playoff expectations, only to see it fall apart. They fired long-time head coach, Adrian Heath, and hired Jason Kreis. The change didn’t help significantly as Kaka continued to struggle with injuries while the defense gave up 60 goals. Orlando finished 7th in the East, and looked a solid step behind the playoff teams.
The defense was the pumpkin that kept Orlando from any real contention. Kreis has focused a lot of transfers to make the backline worthy of playoff ball. Orlando signed Will Johnson to provide defensive cover in the midfield. The backline will be entirely new, with former US National Jonathan Spector brought into as a CB, Donny Toia from Montreal on the right and “PC” on the left. They also brought in Josh Saunders to back up Joe Bendik.
Orlando dropped defensive players faster than the Tower of Terror. They also monorailed out last year’s starting CB David Mateos and DP Bryan Rochez. The most significant loss was Kevin Molino, who scored 11 goals and 8 assists last year for the Lions. Deals at this point seem unlikely, so Orlando will likely have to use a buyout and a lot of the GAM from the Molino deal to buy down these terrible contracts. As such, Orlando will likely be unable to make any significant moves until the summer, if not next offseason.
Kreis was famous for a 4-4-2 diamond in Salt Lake, but unlike Agrabah there’s no diamond in the rough of Orlando. He only has 1 real forward in Cyle Larin, so expect 5 midfielders to play in variations of a 4-5-1. Kaka will obviously play the 10 role, and last year’s midseason addiction Perez-Garcia (MPG) could feature as a winger. Brek Shea has been moved up from LB to LW. Cristian Higuita and Will Johnson figure to provide some defensive cover.
The backline is almost all new, with the only returning player being CB Jose Aja, and he didn’t see a lot of time. He’ll likely be linked up with Spector, but if Spector takes some time to adjust from his new transfer Sebastian Hines is the best option for the Lions. Newcomers Toia and PC will fill out the fullback positions.
Bendik should once again be in goal for Orlando after a stellar season, but they now have a backup with significant MLS experience in Saunders. That’s a luxury not available to the Lions in the rest of their lineup, as their backups everywhere don’t appear to be MLS quality.
Predicted Orlando Starting Lineup
Jason Kreis has stated that he really likes the personnel in Orlando, and he thinks with a brand new stadium, an offseason full with his high training standards, and a brand new defense that he’s the prince to awaken the sleeping purple beauty to its playoff potential. And while Fantasy Managers could expect Kaka to stay healthier now that Orlando isn’t playing on the wretched Citrus Bowl turf, it’s hard to see it. Kevin Molino was a significant piece of their attack, and they don’t have a replacement. The best the Lions can reasonably hope for is that Kaka stays healthier than he has since arriving in MLS and helps maintain their level of attack.
As for Defense, Toia is a nice fit and Will Johnson is a solid player but Orlando are hoping for a lot out of Spector and Aja. Aja is still growing, and will likely experience a number of growing pains. Their big name signing, Jonathan Spector, has “no significant strengths” according to Whoscored.
The bigger problem for Orlando is that almost everyone else in the East has made bigger moves to improve positions of need. I think the most likely scenario is that they flirt close to redline for most of the season before settling for riding the Mad Hatter’s Tea Cups when the playoffs start.
Orlando will have a predictable lineup, which could offer potential for cheap differentials in good matchups, but their attack will suffer without Molino and their defense will continue to be among the worst in the league and the Lions will miss the playoffs.