Orlando City SC 2018 Season Preview by ExiledMLS

Orlando City has rebuilt their roster with several blockbuster trades and signings this off-season. As they embark on their 4th MLS season, they finally look like a playoff-caliber team.

2017 in review

Orlando City came out of the gate guns blazing last March. The Lions started with a 7-1-0 record before things fell apart, and finished with a 10-15-9 record overall. Yes, that’s right. After starting the 2017 season with the strongest record in the league, Orlando City managed to secure just 3 more wins across the remaining 26 games. Curiously, their fall from grace apparently started in Week Eight, which is when former Ballon d’Or winner Kaka returned from injury and was re-inserted back into the lineup. It is both inaccurate and unfair to pin Orlando City’s poor 2017 season on him alone, because they had issues all over the field. But when a $7.1 million per year Designated Player can’t raise the level of a team, he is either past his prime or the team has far more problems besides him. For Orlando City in 2017, both were true.

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Kaka, Higuain, and the Effect of the Aging Playmaker by Kevin Minkus

Yesterday, Kaka announced he would not be returning to Orlando City in 2018. Though unfortunate, the move makes perfect sense. Kaka will be 36 for most of next season, and he’ll end 2017 having played the fewest minutes in his MLS career. His production is down markedly on a per-90 basis:

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Orlando City 2017 Season Preview by ExiledMLS

After failing to make the playoffs in their inaugural season, Orlando City began 2016 with Head Coach Adrian Heath already on the hot seat. An uninspiring 4-4-8 start to the season resulted in Heath’s dismissal on July 6 following a 4-0 shellacking at FC Dallas. Two weeks later, Orlando City hired former Real Salt Lake and NYCFC Head Coach Jason Kreis. While this gave some fans optimism that Orlando City could make a late-season push for the playoffs, it was not meant to be. The Lions finished the season 8th place in the East with 41 points, and were edged out of playoff contention by the Philadelphia Union and New England Revolution (each sitting on 42 points). 

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A Tactical Analysis of NYRB's 3-2 Win over OCSC by Coleman Larned

After starting the 2016 MLS season 1-0-6, New York Red Bulls earned a deserved victory at home against Orlando City SC. Although the 3-2 scoreline doesn't suggest domination, RBNY controlled the tempo for the majority of the game, after having to shake off and compensate for an early 3' Kyle Larin goal. The victory was confirmation of something our expected goals numbers have been saying all season – NYRB have gotten very unlucky with their finishing, having converted almost 13 fewer goals than they should have expected.

More after the jump.

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Orlando City largely exceeded the typical expectations of an expansion team in 2015. The Lions finished in seventh in the East, just five points out of a playoff spot. 33-year old Kaka looked stellar running the show from the midfield, adding seven assists to his nine goals. He finished 16th in expected goals plus expected assists, ahead of well-established playmakers like Lee Nguyen, and Javier Morales (guys who needed no adjustment time to get used to the league). First overall pick Cyle Larin scored 17 goals on 10.5 expected goals on his way to Rookie of the Year honors. Fans showed up in record droves for an expansion team. Overall, their first year in MLS should be certainly be regarded in a positive light.

In spite of these successes, the team did have their problems. Depth, notoriously, is an issue for teams entering the league, and OCSC was no exception. Promising winger Kevin Molino went down in early May with an ACL tear, to be replaced by a combination of cromulent Eric Avila, an out-of-position Darwin Ceren, and Adrian Winter, a Swiss summer signing who spent most of his season getting his MLS legs under him. Young designated player Bryan Rochez spent much of May, June, and July not quite match fit after coming back from the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand late due to visa issues. Brek Shea missed most of the middle of the season with a sports hernia. Ceren missed a few crucial September games with a knee injury. Midfielder Cristian Higuita missed multiple games due to yellow card accumulation. On top of the negative effects of having to give significant minutes to bench-level players- guys like Servando Carrasco, Pedro Ribeiro, and David Mateos- these injuries really hampered the squad's ability to develop consistency.

Slow starts are also frequently an issue for expansion teams, and the Lions experienced some of that, as well. Nine points in their first 10 games dug them into a hole, though they perhaps undeservedly lost some close matches in that span, including a particularly tough one to D.C. United in stoppage time. After the difficult start, the team began to right the ship, buoyed by three wins and two draws in their next five. The rest of the season featured a 1-7-2 stretch and a five game win streak. As should probably be expected for a team new to the league, there were ups and there were downs.

At their best, Orlando City frequently generated chances both from the middle and from out wide. The Kaka to Larin connection led to 3 of Larin's 17 goals, while Carlos Rivas to Larin resulted in 4. City's best wins - 5-2 over Columbus, 4-0 over the Galaxy, 5-2 at Red Bull Arena - featured a good mix of both. At their worst, both facets stalled, and they failed to hold possession and create high quality chances.

A look at the offseason changes and what lies ahead in 2016 after the jump.

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Value Available vs Value on Field: Evaluating MLS Salary Cap Management by Tom Worville

This post sets out to use expansion side Orlando City as an example of how value in MLS can be calculated, and how a teams’ management of the salary cap can be scrutinized using a simple visualization.

With the release of the salary cap last week there are a hundred and one things I want to do with this data. The first idea is something that myself and Ben Torvaney thought of when discussing what we would do if we had the salary data of the Premier League and other European leagues if it was available like it is in MLS (fun topic of conversation I know). Evidently, that data is unlikely to ever be released for any of the big leagues, so MLS is the only league these ideas can be applied to.

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The Weekend Kick-off: Orlando City Are Good, New England Is (Probably) Better by Harrison Crow

by Harrison Crow (@Harrison_Crow)

I'm not sure that many of us knew what to make of Orlando City prior to this season. Sure, they spent some money and got some interesting talents but that doesn't always translate to something or even anything, ask Toronto.  But Kaka has turned out to be maybe the best player in Major League Soccer, Aurélien Collin is still a very good defender and it turns out that Kevin Molino (before ripping his ACL in half) was an above average MLS winger.

Right now, Orlando City looks like a potential playoff team. The big difference between them and, say, the LA Galaxy who are actually sitting in a playoff position is Orlando's horrible home record. Which is all kinds of crazy considering they're sitting second in home attendence with over 39,000.

You have to think that if they can unearth a striker--or maybe just borrow some of Phil Rawlings millions to buy one--who can take advantage of all the chances that Ricardo creates, Orlando may just be a formidable team come the end of this season. Also there is a chance that I might have "borrowed" bath salts from Rafael Ramos.

New England is picking right up where they left off last season. But this time they're doing it in a bit more sustainable fashion. Currently the Red, White and Blue are posting great expected goal numbers in both zero-gamestate situations and overall.

Lee Nguyen isn't overperforming his expected goal numbers astronomically like he did last season, but the Revs don't need him to do that this go-round. Kelyn Rowe is having a break out season, Chris Tierney stepping up to create goal scoring opportunities and Juan Agudelo (who is 3rd in expected goals) is everything they needed him to be last year to be when he went on his sabbatical to the Netherlands, driving a camper between Utrecht and various Scottish cities along the border of England with the hope some magic gate would open to... Stoke (I might have vomitted in my mouth a bit typing that).

New England has seen a once mighty generation come and go with little-to-nothing to show for it. This time around their window is open with the pieces needed to start to fill that trophy case that sits right next to the case of deflated balls that Tom Brady (the greatest of all time! I lost a bet. Don't ask.) has attempted to hide.

The real question is will they be able to keep their expected goals against so low? Don't misunderstand me; it's not as if we're really expecting regression with opposing clubs and their scoring rates. New England is still sitting in the middle of the pack, but considering how horrible they were last year (in the bottom third) and with losing perhaps their top defender... it's just a head-scratcher that they've improved in this manner. I'm going to chalk it up to Jay Heaps and his transition from the Just for Men to Just for Men Touch of Gray.

On a positive note, the team appears set to bring in local boy Will Packwood from Birmingham, England on a discovery claim (assuming they do have sole custody of his rights) which should help supplement a defense that at times has looked unsettled and needing some... well something better. Let's just see how this plays out, Cotton.

Prediction: I'm going with New England on the road with the win.



Kaka (20.6% Selected, $11.4 Cost)

Ugh, the guy is the best player in the league. The best. Forget what he costs. Best. Player.

Rafael Ramos (12.2% Selected, $5.2 Cost)

So long as you're fine with the unmedicated outbursts that result in red cards from time to time burning your fantasy club to the ground, I'm sure you'll get along fine.


Bobby Shuttleworth (6.1% Selected, $5.6 Cost)
I think it's funny how much I get bent out of shape about the disparity between the cost of keepers and their points versus any other position. Most people look at Shuttleworth and think "5.6, WHOA, not made of money here" but really considering what any keeper provides versus their costs. There seems to be one right answer.

Lee Nguyen (4.7% Selected, $11.1 Cost)

He's still really good. Probably not $11 good. But good enough to where it might draw a few suckers.


(expected goal differential in even game-states)


New England Revolution (0.43) @ Orlando City SC (0.06)
Predictions: NE

San Jose Quakes (-0.05) @ Colorado Rapids (-0.30)
Predictions: Draw?


Real Salt Lake (-0.35) @ Chicago Fire (-0.28)
Predictions: Draw??

Portland Timbers (0.12) @ Montreal Impact (-0.10)
Predictions: Draw???

Sporting KC (0.71) @ DC United (-0.46)
Predictions: SCREW YOU, DCU... I'm going with SKC

Philadelphia Union (-0.26) @ Vancouver Whitecaps FC (-0.06)
Predictions: VAN

Seattle Sounders FC (0.88) @ Columbus Crew SC (0.23)
Predictions: Draw

LA Galaxy (0.06) @ FC Dallas (0.14)
Predictions: FCD


Houston Dynamo (-0.14) @ Toronto FC (0.13)
Predictions: TFC

New York City (-0.48) @ New York Red Bulls (0.11)
Predictions: NYRB



I've been saving this for weeks...it's all for you, Toronto.


2015 ASA Preview: Orlando City SC by Harrison Crow

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?

The Coach

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.

The Goalkeepers

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 Defenders

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.

The Midfielder

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...

The Striker

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.

The Summary:

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