2017 just wasn’t Orlando City’s year. Despite an electric start to last year’s MLS season, Jason Kreis’ side ultimately failed in their quest for a first playoff berth, finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference.
Looking on paper, Orlando look ready to bury their demons from last season with a new-look roster filled with players that have the quality to lead the Lions to a playoff spot. However, this is also an Orlando team that lost 6-1 to the Philadelphia Union on the last day of last season, so we will have to see if the new additions make an impact for the Florida team.
Offseason Grade: B+
Speaking of new additions, who did Orlando actually bring in? Kreis managed to pull off not one, but two high-profile trades that have instantly improved the Lions starting XI in the form of Justin Meram from Columbus and Sacha Kljestan from the New York Red Bulls. They might have lost two exciting young players in Carlos Rivas and Tommy Redding in exchange for Kljestan, but in the former Red Bulls captain they have secured a goal-creating machine who adds creativity and leadership to an uninspiring Orlando team.
As well as acquiring Meram and Kljestan, Orlando have also added Oriol Rosell from Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon; the highly-experienced African defender Lamine Sané from Werder Breman; and the Lions even got on the ‘Buy young South Americans’ bandwagon as they signed Paraguayan youngster Josué Colmán from Cerro Porteño.
Orlando have added well this offseason, but there still seems to be some extra room for improvement in the roster. The departure of Cyle Larin is something that will sit poorly with Orlando fans for the entire season, and I’m surprised the club did not go in for a player with worldwide prestige with Kaká hanging up his boots.
Key player: Sacha Kljestan
For the past three seasons, Kljestan has been the assist king of MLS, and it’s very likely this trend will continue in Orlando. With Dwyer leading the line and Meram to cut in from the wing, Kljestan is going to be having a lot of fun playing in purple.
As well as adding much-needed creativity to the midfield, Kljestan’s leadership skills will be vital for the Lions this season now that the great Kaká opted to retire from soccer after two seasons in Florida.
Best-Case Scenario: Playoff Appearance
For the second year running, Orlando’s best-case scenario is to make the playoffs, and also for the second year running the hope is there that the Lions will actually do it. Following the first 10 games of the 2017 MLS season, there was a real chance Orlando could actually make the playoffs after a great start to the season. But that ended up not coming to pass.
Bold Prediction: Dwyer hits 20 league goals
With Larin gone it’s time for a new man to emerge from the shadows and become the player that will be the difference maker for the Lions. Dwyer’s performances since returning to his former club last summer have been underwhelming, to say the least, scoring just four goals in 12 games. But now with the creative influence of Kljestan in midfield, Dwyer could become a force to be reckoned with in MLS.
The English-born striker has only hit 20+ goals in an MLS season just once in his career, however with an insanely talented squad behind him, the license to now do his own thing, and playing for a fan base that adore him due to his time for the club in Orlando’s USL days, it could all amount to Dwyer being one of the most lethal strikers in MLS this season.