By Harrison Crow (@harrison_crow)
Orlando City Soccer Club; a team that has won it all. A team that has seen its share of trophies over a short period of time and accomplished so many impressive feats. Yet, here they are starting anew with no real past. No MLS victories,n o MLS golden boot winners, and no MLS championships. The club has a storied history, it has great (albiet short) history and, yet, all at the same it has no history. This is the life and evolution of the once Austin Aztex and former USL PRO Orlando City grown up and now an expansion team in Major League Soccer as the Orlando City Soccer Club.
Their club is an enigma, and that thought represents the entirety of the season with what lies before them and the many predictions that are being made upon their behalf. Some with swooping claims of cups and glory, yet others with tales of unexpected challenges and a year of transition into an unforgiving league.
Vigorous youth mixed with gritty veterans and all those cute narratives that can be packaged together through the cliché good will is bought and sold around this organization. The question is, even with all the upgraded talent, coming into a tougher league can this club still be among the best?
Adrian Heath and his tale is remarkable to me. For those that don't know he was basically hired after a meeting with owner Phil Rawlins in a Newcastle pub and moved his family from England to Texas to coach a team with no name and no pitch, simply trusting Rawlins' dream.
Either that's really stupid or he's just someone that is brilliant at understanding, evaluating and deciphering people. Considering all the talent that he has brought and cycled through Orlando in the last four years, I tend to believe it's the later.
The obvious example of Heath and his ability to deal with talent is the situation of Dom Dwyer. Dwyer was disappointed initially when Sporting loaned him to Orlando City in 2013 as part of the USL-MLS partnership. Dwyer admitted retrospectively to the UK guardian he didn't like the idea of being loaned out but credits the experience as a time growth and that “learned so much, especially from Orlando head coach Adrian Heath”.
Dwyer wasn't the only person that Heath mentored over the years. You could point to Jamaican Dennis Chin, who scored 21 goals in 84 matches for Orlando and was an MVP candidate in 2012. Most recently the example of Heath's work can be found in winger and 2014 USL golden boot winner, Kevin Molino. Many pundits believe that Molino is MLS' newest budding star.
Heath has shown a keen ability to not just mentor talent but put them in logical positions that fit their talents and, at the same time, bolster his schemes. A staunch believer in the 4-3-3 over his time in USL it's very likely that a slight tweak will be in order to facilitate the addition of Ballon d'Or winner Kaká. It's likely that there will be little defensive responsibility on the former world player of the year lending to the idea that Heath might favor a 4-2-3-1.
Donovan Ricketts looks to be the starter early on and MLS pundits will all hail the move. A lot of people are down about Ricketts for goals that he should probably have saved in 2014. They point to routine situations where he has lost his positioning or was slow in identifying movement across the backline. But despite that, our numbers imply that Ricketts has still been pretty good in three out of the four seasons and the two most recent years have some 260 shots involved in them. In 2013 Ricketts won Goalkeeper of the Year, which some say should have gone to Nick Rimando. Our data suggests that Ricketts was well-deserving of the honor.
The real question is what happens once Tally Hall becomes healthy. Obviously at 37 Ricketts is no spring chicken and this looks like Hall's job for the future. But how will this be handled if Ricketts is still plucking bullets out of the sky and performing when Hall is ready to step back between the pipes?
Furthermore, up until last year our data was pretty certain Hall was a fine starting keeper and at 29 he's about to really start hitting the prime of a goalkeeper's career. It's a big decision and possibly not as easy as it seems.
The Lions were quick to put to use that bang bang allocation cash-ola they get with being an expansion team. The first of many offseason moves was to snag Aurélien Collin from Sporting KC. There are many that have thought the past few years that Collin was among the best defenders in all of MLS, and the numbers lend credence to that thought. He has averaged roughly eight duels won per 90 minutes in back-to-back seasons good for 13th overall in 2013* and 10th in 2014* winning over 50% of his duels in both seasons. But he is also a bit of a card hazard, collecting a total of 15 yellow cards in 2013. Still, he seemed to have scaled back his aggressiveness in 2014 with only two yellows, though this also came with an additional two red cards. His foul ratio also dropped in 2014 from 1.9 in 2013 to 1.5. There were questions last season with Sporting KC defense, so it remains to be seen whether or not he can still be a top-tier defender and anchor a line that is badly in need of support.
I suppose I should throw a sharp little quip about Brek Shea being back at left back, but I really have little opinion on that whole thing. Good for him. He's making some money, doing what he likes and looks to be apart of a team that could be good over the whole of the season. Does he fit at left back? Sure. Should he takes Molino's spot? Nope. Do I think Shea possibly killed Mr. Green in Downton Abbey? Yes, actually, I do.
I am so interested in Kevin Molino for a few different ones. First his shots attempted have steadily increased each year and with more playing time. Starting off at nearly two shots per 90 minutes played in 2012 and reaching over four shots this past season.
While we didn't have a strong track record for Dom Dwyer, we saw the number of shots that he took during his loan in Orlando carry over to his time at Sporting KC. Obviously this works this way because Dwyer is going to handle the ball and largely hold the responsibility for creating the scoring opportunities.
That said, Adrian Heath has deployed Molino almost as a strike partner for the trio of Corey Hertzog, Chin and Giuseppe Gentile with the way he would make slashing moves into the 18-yard box.
I know everyone is enamored with the idea of Kaká being in MLS and it's cool, it's not a regular thing for this league to attract former Ballon d'Or /World Player of the Year caliber talent, however, I'm not yet certain if I buy him being the same thing that Thierry Henry was for the Red Bulls. I think of him being more of a creator than a goal scorer, and if that's going to be the case the team is going to depend very much upon the talents of whoever ends up with the starting striker job.
Speaking of which...
I think it's really interesting the comparison between young designated player and probable starting striker Bryan Róchez and “failed” New England designated player, Jerry Bengtson. I say failed with quotes because I'm not personally of the belief that you can label anything a failure without giving it at least a full season of minutes (3,060). Instead he got 2,200 minutes across three seasons, which in turn saw only a paltry four goals created.
However, our data suggests that Bengtson actually didn't fair as poorly as the surface numbers suggest. Expected goals has him for a total of nearly nine goals with a shot leverage of 0.152. These are still not great numbers from a striker but far from the “failed” narrative gets paraded around.
Prior to arriving in MLS, Bengtson was the star striker of C.D. Motagua in Honduras making appearances in the CONCACAF Champions League and scoring a total of 26 goals through 54 games for the Eagles prior to being loaned to New England.
Much like Bengtson, Róchez is coming from Honduras and a club that wasn't necessarily the top of Liga Nacional in Real España. Róchez notched similar numbers to Bengtson with 29 goals over 59 matches. However, the key difference between that Róchez is making this transition having JUST turned 20 in January, compared to Bengston being 24, and has played in only half as many games played (78) in his career compared to what Bengtson had (147) at the time of his arrival to the US.
These are just differences between the two players. They don't necessarily convey talent levels and they won't lead to us anywhere near being able to make any substantial claims one way or another on future success. They're simply just interesting comparisons.
There is a lot of room for error in comparing matches and goal tallies. There is no context to the situation and there isn't much depth to what little information lies on the surface. Will Róchez be any good? It's really impossible to tell at this point, but it's interesting to note what a firm grasp he has on the starting position considering his youth.
I'm not trying to predict where this club is going to land. It's a foolish task. They could win everything, they could win nothing. The truth is that we have no idea how they might succeed and whether or not that potential success is even sustainable. What we do know is that expansion teams tend to have heavy roster churn and changes within the front office, and while there was some roster turnover because of the expansion the core has remained intact, and the coaching staff office has stuck around. All of these are positive signs.
Only one other club since 1998 has made the MLS playoffs in their first season, and while the East has no powerhouse, it's ruled by many clubs with gross amounts of talent all looking to collect scalps. The question is can OCSC can steal one of those six spots? Any answer seems valid to this point. Yes? No? 17 red cards for Aurélien Collin. Who knows... who freakin' knows? One thing is for sure. This will be a fun team to watch.
*minimum 14 match appearances