Preseason is a funny time of year.
On one hand, it’s when a club comes together. New pieces learn a system, old faces return to form and players do their best to ensure they’re ready for what promises to be a long campaign.
It’s hard to make predictions off so little time with a mostly new starting XI. This Orlando City team is practically an unknown quantity at this point.
With that said, here are five thoughts with preseason training wrapped and the regular season looming.
- Orlando City is all in
How else could anyone describe this club after its offseason acquisition frenzy? The players that were brought in aren’t just fresh faces who might compete for time. These are players who are expected to help the Lions reach the postseason.
Sacha Kljestan is a two-time MLS assist king. Justin Meram scored a career-high 13 league goals last season. Uri Rosell won an MLS Cup with Sporting KC. Muhammed El-Munir has proven capable at left back. Lamine Sané was a starter in the Bundesliga. Stéfano Pinho was the top goal scorer in the NASL last season.
That’s not even mentioning 19-year-old Paraguayan midfielder and designated player Josué Colmán.
These aren’t no-names. This is a roster head coach Jason Kreis likes. Orlando City SC has jettisoned anyone who — presumably — didn’t buy into what Kreis wanted for this club and now players have their eyes set on a solid year.
Kreis and the players have mostly brushed off questions regarding pressure surrounding the club.
“I think this is a common misconception of sports fans in general — soccer fans in particular — and people who have never been in an elite performance field, working with a team, is that if all we’re doing is talking about the end result, we will never get there.
“We need to be focused on all of the details that need to happen on a day-to-day basis and let the end result be there. We know it’s there, but we don’t need to be talking about it every single day. We need to be talking about everything we need to be talking about everything we need to do to improve day by day.”
- Chris Mueller could be a special rookie
Yes, it was just preseason. Yes, things will be different once he steps on the pitch and faces an MLS team that wants to put 100 percent into stopping him. Yes, MLS SuperDraft picks don’t typically make massive splashes in their first year.
Seriously, according to MLSSoccer.com, of the 81 players drafted in 2017, only three appeared in at least 20 MLS games. Nine appeared in at least 10 games.
Mueller was drafted sixth overall. Only one of the top six picks in the 2017 SuperDraft played in more than 20 games.
Still, fans of Orlando City can be forgiven for getting excited about the college assist king. Chris Mueller looked solid this preseason and scored five goals in four training scrimmages against MLS competition. That’s nothing to scoff at.
Kreis said he sees himself in Mueller. Kreis was one of the best MLS players ever.
“I’ve always believed I could [make an impact],” Mueller said. “It’s just about coming in here and trying to make a name for yourself. You know, you come in unknown. It’s easy to do it with such great teammates around you and such great veterans who are just leading so well in the locker room.”
- Dom Dwyer is important, but not necessarily the key to Orlando City’s success
Dwyer is a star when healthy. He wasn’t healthy throughout most of the preseason and will miss the season opener with a quad strain.
Kreis said Dwyer’s injury is “interesting.” Over the final weeks of the preseason, Orlando City’s head coach went from saying the injury wasn’t has severe as he originally thought, to saying it would take Dwyer “several weeks” to recover.
The Lions are formidable with Dwyer on the pitch … but new options are stepping up.
Pinho has been working hard throughout the preseason and even though he didn’t rack up goals like Mueller did, he still impressed Kreis with his willingness to work and run.
Mueller spent plenty of time playing as a striker during this preseason instead of filling the creative mid role he grew accustomed to in college.
Those are just a couple of examples. Dwyer is important, but this team has options in the attack.
- Things could be tough at the start of the season
Dwyer’s absence is one thing, but he’s just one of five players who will be out for the season opener.
Attacking midfielder Colmán (quad contusion) and midfielder Dillon Powers (ankle), holding midfielder Rosell (fitness) are all unavailable for Saturday’s opener. Kljestan (suspension) is also out.
- We can expect this group to get stronger as the season goes on
A rough start doesn’t mean much if you stick the landing. Things could be rough early for Orlando City — though there’s enough talent for this club to secure some early points — but if everyone gets healthy and on the same page, this squad could be fun to watch as the year goes on.
Can this group avoid another summer swoon? That’s what matters. The Lions won just one game in 12 outings over the summer months of June, July and August last season.
In three years of MLS competition, Orlando City has gone 7-18-13 over the summer months.
Players will be added into the mix as the season goes on and Kreis’ expectation is that the group will improve.