Alright, fill us in: How are the ex-RSL guys doing? Is Will Johnson angering the opponent as much as ever? And is Luis Gil frustrating your own fans?
Johnson has been one of the most important pieces on the team this season. It was through the sheer force of his will (no pun intended, but greatly appreciated) that Orlando City was able to hold on for a point with nine men against the Chicago Fire a few weeks ago. He was vital in the win over the LA Galaxy. His leadership qualities have improved the team and yeah, he’s still a pain in the side of opposing teams, although we’ve not seen a slew of bookings or anything. This team has had its struggles recently but without Johnson things would be much worse.
Gil has become the favorite whipping boy among the Orlando City fan base. Every team has a guy who draws the ire of the home fans and Gil has become that player in 2017. Last year it was Antonio Nocerino and he’s largely thrown off those chains and become well respected. I remember asking you about Gil when Orlando signed him and you mentioned that he was kind of a midfielder without a true specialty – either a defensive midfielder with some offensive inclinations or an attacking midfielder who hadn’t yet developed the skills necessary to start at the position. That’s been what we’ve seen and I think that lack of a true specialty has City’s fans perplexed. It’s hard to know how to judge a player if you’re not sure what that player is, exactly. As he has mainly stepped in to replace guys like Giles Barnes or Kaka in the lineup, you’d expect some offense, and he’s produced some shots but no real goal threats. Or you might look for creative build-up play. He’s done that maybe once, helping set up the free kick that tied the Seattle game. If he’s a defensive midfielder, he’s been OK, if unspectacular, but it hasn’t been obvious if that’s been his role. I’m personally reserving judgment at this time because I think he’s still somewhat in an adjustment period.
What's it going to take for Jason Kreis to turn Orlando around before the end of the season?
That’s a good question. Since the beginning of May, the Lions have had an excruciating schedule with multiple instances of three games in eight- or nine-day periods. It’s difficult to tell if that’s been the real cause of the recent poor run of results or if the team has regressed. There’s not been one real thing you can point to aside from a lack of goal scoring – and even that can be partially traced to Cyle Larin’s suspension and a bit of exhaustion on the Canadian’s part during the congested fixture schedule.
Some days the defense has been bad. Other days, the team hasn’t finished its chances. Joe Bendik had a bad game in there somewhere. An early officiating decision affected one game. There hasn’t been one specific recurring problem, so it’s hard to know what to fix, exactly. I think we’ll know more once the games aren’t coming so thick and fast.
It's a long season, and we're at the midpoint right now. If you could make one single realistic change — tactical, coaching staff, player personnel — what would you do?
What this team could use is a young, quick, play-making DP in the midfield or a striker who can play alongside Larin with a better finishing touch than Carlos Rivas. Either would likely cure any scoring ills and make the team less one-handed. That said, it’s really hard to find a Miguel Almiron, a Romain Alessandrini, or a Nicolas Lodeiro. It’s exceedingly difficult to find a Nemanja Nikolic. If Orlando City could pay down Giles Barnes with allocation money and sign a dynamic offensive player to replace either Rivas or one of the midfielders, it could push the team back up near the top of the conference table and set up a favorable playoff position.