Orlando City Season Preview
Updated: Jun 1
So here we are. Stood on the precipice of the new MLS season, which is now mere days away. After an off-season which has lasted about 349 years, a Nani-less Orlando City get ready to take on Justin Meram's Real Salt lake in their season opener on Saturday. Whilst the Lions are without their talismanic DP, who serves the first of a two-game suspension, they will be confident of picking up all three points against an RSL team who didn't travel particularly well in 2019. The Utah based club were 4-4-9 on the road last season. But then Orlando are Orlando at home... Orlando’s worryingly poor home form last season is probably what ultimately cost them a spot in last seasons’ play-offs. This is something that Oscar Pareja will be looking to address in the coming weeks and months.
With the clubs’ 6th season in MLS fast approaching, you get the feeling that this has to be the season the Lions finally roar into the Eastern Conferences’ top 7. All of the ingredients are certainly there, save for one or two. The club has focused heavily on strengthening the spine of the team, with a view to using that as a spring board to become more proficient in the final third. Orlando were heavily reliant on Nani last season, but with the likes of Mauricio Pereyra and Daryl Dike being added to the squad the Lions are hoping to have a bit more bite in their attack this season. Pereyra in particular could have a vital role to play. It was always going to be difficult for the former FC Krasnodar playmaker to mame a tangible impact, given that he joined so late in the season.
Expectations on Daryl Dike are high, but I would urge supporters to temper those expectations somewhat. The young forward out of the University of Virginia was highly sought after in the 2020 MLS Superdraft, and with good reason. The Oklahoma native is strong, quick, great in the air and has a good footballing brain. However, he is only 19. As such we have to remember that he is a young player, who has yet to make his debut in the professional game. I have no doubt he will become a top player in this league, but it’s important that we don’t expect too much too soon. The same can also be said of Joey DeZart. It’s fair to say that not too much was expected of him when Orlando drafted him from Wake Forest in the second round. However, DeZart has impressed and was rewarded with a pro contract last week. Add those two players to an already strong contingent of promising youngsters such as Chris Mueller, Benji Michel and Santiago Patino and the Lions certainly have a lot of energy in attack.
Elsewhere across the team the likes of Pedro Gallese, Junior Urso and Antonio Carlos have added really depth, experience and quality to the spine of the team. Oscar Pareja will be hoping that the trio hit the ground running and establish themselves as real leaders on this team. Leaders will be particularly important on the opening day of the season, especially with Nani missing. The Lions will be wanting to get off to a good start, especially when you study their opening sequence of games. After RSL Orlando travels to Colorado, before facing off against the Chicago Fire at Exploria Stadium. The Lions then head to Los Angeles to face the Galaxy in their first western conference match up. That’s a tough opening sequence, so getting points on the board early will be a big priority for Oscar Pareja’s team. Beating RSL would be the perfect way to start the season. I can see several of the key winter additions lining up at Exploria Stadium come Saturday evening. With Dom Dwyer already being classed as week to week, there is already an early headache for Pareja to consider at striker. Will he stick with what he knows, and start with the ever reliable Tesco Akindele? I think Oscar Pareja is familiar with Tesco following their time together in Dallas. He will know what to expect in competitive action for the likeable Canadian. Tesco notched a very respectable 10 goals in his debut season, so I believe this is how Oscar Pareja’s team will line up in their season opener:
Moving forwards there are a few more questions to ponder. You have to feel that Nani will go straight back into the line-up when he completes his suspension in time for the Fire game. The Lions continue to search for that allusive winger, having been rebuffed in their attempts to sign Alex Castro and Florinel Coman. So the onus is on the likes of Mueller, Michel and Robinho to really stake a claim. Dom Dwyer will be eager to cement his place in the head coach’s thoughts for the season. I have written previously that this year has to be a big year for the Peckham native, and that certainly remains the case. Dwyer will not be able to command the sort of salary he has been taking home since his return to Orlando if he doesn’t hit double figures for the season in 2020. Even if they aren’t able to add a final piece to the attacking puzzle, Orlando have depth that they haven’t really had before. So the supply line should be there, and Orlando will need Dwyer to find his scoring boots if they are to improve upon their goal output from 2019 which was the 4th worst in the league.
My first choice XI for 2020.
The thing that has impressed me most this off season has been how Muzzi and Pareja moved so quickly to address the back line and the midfield. It is clear to anyone with even a remote understanding of this league can see that Pedro Gallese, Antonio Carlos and Junior Urso are very good signings. I believe Gallese has the potential to become the top goalkeeper in the league, and Carlos is a top centre back. Urso is something of a journeyman, but has played at a very high level. His athleticism and ability to carry the ball from deep are highly sought after quantities, and something we have lacked since our MLS bow.
There is depth across the squad. Whilst Brian Rowe helped to oversee huge defensive improvements he is far from a top level keeper. That being said he is a more than capable stand in for Gallese. Ruan and Moutinho are both mainstays for me, with the Brazilians’ Star shining particularly brightly in 2019. I’m backing him to have an even bigger season this year. The likes of Robin Jansson, Antonio Carlos, Rodrigo Schlegel, Kyle Smith, Alex DeJohn and Kamal Miller provide depth across the back line. Miller is coming off a fairly impressive rookie season, where if nothing else he proved his versatility to the team. Schlegel is a bit more of an unknown quantity. The Argentine comes from one of the biggest clubs in South America in Racing. Whilst he wasn’t exactly first name on the team sheet there, he brings invaluable experience of competing in a winning culture. In midfield the likes of Bender, DeZar, Lorena, Mendez, Perea and Urso will be looking to have break out season whilst Rosell will provide well established competition. And as I've already touched on, options are plentiful in attack. Though if I’m being completely honest I’d still like us to bring in one more winger.
With all that being said I’m feeling pretty confident about the season ahead. I think if we can get off to a good start, remain as solid as last season-if not more so, then with the attacking options at our disposal a play off push is certainly on the cards. I’m predicting a 5th place finish for Orlando City SC in the 2020 regular season.