Orlando City has eight games left in the regular season, but new coach James O’Connor is already planting the seeds for the 2019 season.
Some of his plans have been seen on match day. Young midfielder Pierre Da Silva recently got his first meaningful MLS minutes. The starting XI has been changed a few times and players are getting looks in different positions.
That isn’t to say O’Connor is not thoroughly analyzing every performance the Lions put together as the season winds down. Orlando City isn’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention just yet, but the odds are slim with the team sitting in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference with a 7-16-3 record (24 points).
“For us, I think we’ve been very intentional about building a foundation for next year,” O’Connor said. “There’s a lot that’s actually gone on that we’re probably not going to see the reward for until next year. I think there’s so much behind the scenes that we’re doing that I think is really important for next year.
“But, equally, we still want to make sure that we try to win as many games as we possibly can and get the level of performances that we want. I think, for the players, it’s an interesting sort of situation because you have to try to perform because you perform to want to stay or you have to perform because maybe you’re not going to stay and somebody is going to want to take you.”
O’Connor said there’s still a lack of confidence throughout the team after a rough season and added he’s looking for consistency. Orlando City has just one win during its past 17 matches.
The Lions face Sporting KC (13-7-6, 45 points) on the road at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“I think, maybe, we’ve got a new coach coming in and the accountability is a little bit different,” O’Connor said. “I think when that starts to happen, it can affect players’ psychology. Again, trying to get the guys where just focus on playing. Go and enjoy the game. Go and try to be the best they can be and play without a little bit of fear and play with some confidence.
“I think in training, they can show aspects of what we want and it’s trying to get more of that in the games.”
Of course, when planning for the future there’s a question of time. O’Connor is Orlando City’s third coach since the club joined MLS in 2015. Adrian Heath – who was the Lions’ coach during its USL days – and Jason Kreis were given less than two full seasons’ worth of games before they were fired.
Orlando City has gone 1-6-2 with O’Connor at the helm.
“I think the one thing I’ve been really impressed with with the ownership – with [CEO] Alex [Leitão] and [owner] Flávio [Augusto da Silva] – is their desire to win,” O’Connor said. “That’s something that’s really important to me as an individual.
“I think a lot of people look and I think they label the front office or the label Flávio or they label Alex. For me, the relationship I have with both of those, and in particular with [GM] Niki [Budalic]. I think we’re trying to create an understanding of where we feel are as a club, what’s needed going forward and showing through regular meetings where we are, we’re were headed, some of the things we want to implement.
“I’m very confident in what we’re doing and our process and the building phase that we’re in at the moment to try to create what we want. From my standpoint, I’m very comfortable in what we’re doing.”