For the second time since 2016, Orlando City is looking for a new head coach.
Jason Kreis and the club on Friday agreed to part ways despite a promising start to the 2018 campaign that included a club-record six-match win streak. However, a six-game losing streak that followed proved too much to overcome.
Kreis finished with a 21-29-14 record in Major League Soccer play and a 1-1 record in the U.S. Open Cup. Assistant coach Bobby Murphy will be the interim coach while the club searches for a new permanent head coach. Assistant coaches CJ Brown and Miles Joseph have left with Kreis.
The Lions began the season with high hopes after a series of roster changes. Two-time MLS assist king Sacha Kljestan and Columbus Crew star Justin Meram were brought in to bolster the attack, and defensive additions such as centerback Lamine Sané were meant to shore up the club’s back line.
Club CEO Alex Leitão has made frequent appearances at training sessions this season. He said he was patient during the club’s 0-2-1 start because the Lions weren’t healthy. Once players came back prior to Orlando City’s 3-2 victory over the Portland Timbers, Leitão said there were no excuses for the club.
Still, Orlando City has been dogged by injuries throughout the season. Star striker Dom Dwyer has missed time, so have Sané, centerback and captain Jonathan Spector and a slew of other key players.
“This is a very difficult decision to take, but sometimes in sports we must make tough decisions with the best future of the organization in mind,” Leitão said in a statement.
“I have enormous respect for Jason and the work his team has done in Orlando. He arrived in a difficult moment and is leaving with a legacy of respect and professionalism. Now is time to look forward, keep our heads high and continue pushing towards the many goals we set this season.”
Kreis said this year’s squad is full of players who want to be with Orlando City and frequently called the 2018 Lions the most “together” team he’s ever led.
That unity didn’t translate to consistent wins and the season went off the rails after Orlando City’s record win streak. The club lost six consecutive matches, including an embarrassing 3-0 loss on the road to the Montreal Impact. Orlando City spent most of its losing streak getting burned in transition, regardless of the club’s opponent.
The Lions have been outscored 17-5 during their past six games and have lost three consecutive matches by three goals. They’ve conceded the first goal in 13 of their 15 MLS matches this season.
Early on, surrendering the first goal wasn’t an issue for the club, as it frequently battled back to win matches. The trend flipped during the club’s losing streak — Orlando City has conceded first in every match of the skid, but the Lions couldn’t rally to erase the deficits.
After Orlando City’s loss to the Impact, Kreis said he hoped the Lions had reached their lowest point of the season.
“I keep telling the guys, and I believe it to be 1,000 percent true, is that nobody’s helping us out of this,” Kreis said after the match. “Nobody’s coming over the wall to rescue us. Pretty clearly we’re not getting any 50-50 referee decisions so we’re going to have to take this on ourselves. We’re going to have to work together and bring ourselves out of this.”
He added, “We’re at the bottom of our season right now and we need to respond right away.”
Orlando City (6-8-1, 19 points) is in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They hold an advantage over seventh-place Chicago due to their total wins so far this season and would have made the playoffs if they started today.
Kreis was hired midway through Orlando City’s second season in MLS and replaced Adrian Heath in July 2016.
Now another coach will be tasked with trying to lead the Lions to their first playoff bid in franchise history.