Going Back to Basics Pays Dividends for Orlando City



Since being announced as the 21st franchise in Major League Soccer, the spotlight has been well and truly focused on Orlando City. Every decision, move and press release has been scrutinized with a fine-tooth comb by all and that was firmly highlighted after last Wednesday’s loss to D.C. United. Fans were calling for the coach’s head and players to be traded like cattle, and commentators were really beginning to question whether or not Orlando, and especially Kaká, had what it took to be in MLS despite everything that had gone on before.

Then Sunday happened. Now the club is back to being the darling of soccer in America, and an example of the American dream. Proof that, to misquote Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” Despite everything that had come before Sunday, the expectations for every home game from fans were going higher and higher. The pressure was intensifying on the players to get that monkey off of their backs, and on Sunday they eventually found the release valve: The concept that soccer can be fun.

After giving up their first lead of the season against D.C. and adding another loss to their resume, the team was down but not out. Had Aurelien Collin not gone down injured, it’s possible we could have held the Black and Red at bay and taken the win on the road.

Everyone can agree that even though a win is a win, doing it at home in front of the devoted fans who are thirsting for the victory makes it taste that much sweeter. But if our purple-clad lads had returned to the Citrus Bowl and lost another home game, then it would have been a bellwether of how the rest of the season would pan out, with fan impatience and dissolution starting to bubble over.

But, Orlando grabbed a win (and a truly decisive one, at that) against the reigning MLS Cup champions, and the sky is the limit once again. As I stood in the stands on Sunday, comparing Cristian Higuita to Amobi Okugu, and marveling at how mature Darwin Ceren looked out there, trying to find the X-factor of what was different, I realized that it wasn’t the formation, or the starting squad, it was the visible weight that was lifted off the team’s shoulders from the pressures of defeat. They looked lighter.

Addiction experts say that you can’t start to recover until you hit rock bottom. In the last month, we have been plagued with injuries, bad luck with calls and refereeing, and the constant spectre of being the expansion side who has to prove week-after-week that we deserve to play with the big boys.

So maybe we hit the bottom. Maybe we stopped caring that it could get worse, accepted the fate that we were handed, and decided, come what may, we’re going to go out there, give the fans a good show and enjoy the sport that so many had devoted their lives to playing. After all, it couldn’t get any worse.

And then it got amazingly better. From the first goal, you could feel the stadium’s energy. A collective ‘We can do this.’

And then there were two. And then Kaká’s penalty, with the amazingly awesome and classy tribute to Kevin Molino. And then another one. And then a “just hold on, let’s get a clean sheet” victory from Tally Hall, who was so excited to be back that he was jumping around in the box when the ball was on the other end of the pitch.

Sometimes a team has to go back to where they came from to get where they are going. With OCSC Head Coach Adrian Heath reverting to fun games during practice and an up-tempo style of play last seen in the hey days of USL, the team has found its chemistry and started working as a unit.

Going back to basics off the field and revisiting why these guys play soccer in the first place seems to have done the trick to turn things around. The end result may be that a slow, stuttering start to the season leads into what could be a sweet summer.


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