For all of you Central Florida sports fans who have suffered through an Orlando Magic rebuild that has now stretched into its sixth miserable year with no end in sight, I present to you a complete Orlando City overhaul that hasn’t even lasted four months.
If only all professional sports were like MLS — a league where if your players don’t play hard enough and don’t want it bad enough, you just blow them out and bring in a whole new batch.
So this is why they call it The Beautiful Sport?
If the countless personnel moves made during the offseason weren’t enough proof that Orlando City coach Jason Kreis and CEO Alex Leitão hated last year’s team, then their bold words at the team’s preseason Media Day on Monday decisively drove the point home.
Leitão once again lit into disgruntled and departed star Cyle Larin, who embarrassed the club last year with a highly publicized DUI charge and embarrassed Orlando City again just recently when he forced the Lions to sell his rights to Besiktas – one of the top teams in Turkey. Leitão said the Lions quickly negotiated a transfer fee with Besiktas because why would they fight to keep a player like Larin, whom he called “a troublemaker … who doesn’t respect the club, doesn’t respect contracts and doesn’t care about the group. … What’s the point of bringing a player like that back to club?”
Kreis also didn’t mince words. He essentially said last year’s roster was loaded with a bunch of characters instead of character. He called the off-field behavior and on-field commitment of his players downright “alarming.”
“We weren’t happy about it,” Kreis said. “We tried to address it the best way we knew how, which was discipline during the season. There are players that aren’t back and suffered because of that. We felt a strong desire to have better professionals here who were more serious about what they’re doing.
“We want guys who want to compete, who want to win and who feel the pain when we don’t win. Every single player we’ve brought (during the offseason) has sat down with me, looked me in the eye and told me they want to win and they want to be here for the right reasons.”
Translation: Last year’s team was a dysfunctional mess, which is why 15 players are gone from the 2017 roster. A few left on their own (Kaká retired and Larin wanted out), but most were jettisoned to make way for 12 new players … and counting.
If you’re scoring at home, only two players remain on the roster from Orlando City’s inaugural MLS squad in 2015. As many as five or six new starters, including high-profile players such as Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram and Josué Colmán, have been acquired during the offseason.
This is the beauty of MLS when compared to the NBA or Major League Baseball. The contracts in MLS are much shorter and much cheaper, which means teams aren’t saddled with their failed acquisitions for years.
Let’s be honest, shall we: Other than $9 beers, long-term guaranteed contracts are the worst thing to ever happen to professional sports in this country. The lucrative, guaranteed deals might be great for the athletes who sign them, but they are a nightmare for fans who watch their teams mired in misery because of the fallout from them.
Just think of some of the Magic’s nightmarish contracts of the past such as Grant Hill (seven years, $93 million), Gilbert Arenas (he was so bad the Magic paid him $40 million just to go away) and currently Bismack Biyombo, a backup center who averages 5.5 points per game but makes $17 million a year for the next three seasons.
In MLS, you don’t have teams being held hostage by these punitive contracts. You don’t have situations like the New York Knicks, who just put former Florida Gators star Joakim Noah on an indefinite leave of absence despite owing him $54 million over the next three seasons.
From a fan perspective, sports are always better when the league and the teams have the most power. This is why the NFL is the king of all sports in this country – because contracts aren’t guaranteed and players must earn their spot on the roster on an annual basis.
Orlando City veteran Will Johnson says the Lions need to be more like the Philadelphia Eagles, who just beat the Patriots to win the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
“The Eagles won the championship and their backup quarterback (Nick Foles) was the Super Bowl MVP,” Johnson said. “That’s what we need from our entire roster and that’s why we made so many changes during the offseason.
“We had training sessions last year that weren’t up to the standards of the playoff teams I’ve been on. There was no competitive spirit. There were 11 guys who were going to play on the weekend and 11 other guys who were on the bench and dejected and not giving their all for the team. Our motto is simple this year: If you’re in that starting 11, you give everything. And if you’re not in the starting 11, you still give everything.”
Who knows if the Lions’ rebuild will work, but the beauty of it is this:
If it doesn’t, they can always try again next year.
Mike Bianchi is a columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. Email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hit him up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to his Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9, AM 740 or the iHeart app.