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Orlando City strives to close dismal season with win before next wave of rebuilding

Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor during the second half at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

Orlando City coach James O’Connor is ready to put the 2018 season behind him.

It’s been rough going for O’Connor since he joined the Lions in July. He’s gone 2-11-3 in league play as Orlando City’s coach and has faced questions about his players’ commitment levels as well as what could be done to turn things around next season.

O’Connor has defended his rebuilding efforts, but after a 0-0 draw with the Houston Dynamo said his original thoughts of stepping in midseason after the firing of Jason Kreis and guiding the Lions to their first berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs might have been “maybe a little bit too ambitious.”

Orlando City (8-21-4, 28 points) ends its season with a match against the New York Red Bulls (21-7-5, 68 points) on Sunday at Red Bull Arena. The Decision Day matchup is meaningless for the Lions – they’re doomed to a franchise-worst MLS points total regardless of the outcome – but the Red Bulls are looking to clinch the Supporters’ Shield.

“I think, since we’ve come in, we’ve wanted to look,” O’Connor said. “We feel as if we’ve looked, but I think the season, from our aspect of when we come in midseason, we have high, high expectations of ourselves so we’re obviously disappointed with the way the season has petered out.

“I think, as a club, obviously we want to make sure that we get the success that we all want. It’s been very intentional about following a process, following a plan, and then making sure that you execute it.”

Of course, O’Connor wants to close out the season with a victory. But he’s planning on some serious self-reflection once the season is over.

O’Connor gave a deadpan “no” when asked if he’d take any time away from the team once the season is over. He added, “There’s a lot of work to do.”

He said he has a clear idea of what he wants moving forward.

“I think it’s too easy to say I’d do A, B, C differently,” O’Connor said. “For us, when I speak about reflection, I don’t just come in and say, ‘Well, I’m going to answer that in the space of two minutes.’ We’re very diligent in how we analyze things. I think there’s some aspects that I think maybe the approach, could we have been a little bit tougher, stronger, in certain aspects of play?

“For us, the reflection piece is something that needs to be spent over a few days, not something that you answer in five minutes or 10 minutes. If you want something that’s meaningful, there needs to be proper reflection.”

O’Connor said putting the 2018 season behind doesn’t mean just forgetting about it and moving on. He’s going to analyze what he’s done as a coach as part of getting ready for the 2019 campaign.

“There’s some aspects that we felt as if we were getting [what we want],” O’Connor said. “Again, when we look back, the first thing we try to do is look at what could we, maybe, have done a little bit differently. What aspects could we have changed? Was our approach correct?

“In certain instances, the messaging. The communication. I think there’s so many aspects of self-reflecting that we’re still going through. I think the easy thing to do is to just stick in the in the drawer and just crack on with what you want to do. I think it’s important that you do both. I think you have to reflect.

“I think you have to ask questions of yourself. I think you have to ask questions of individuals. And then, I think, you have to create a plan, make sure that there’s a process to the plan and then carry it out.”

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