ORLANDO, Fla. — It has taken almost 12 months. But the process of evolution rather than revolution has been re-established at Orlando City SC, and it has come full circle following the promotion of Niki Budalic to general manager last week.
The former assistant GM has worked to smooth over the ripples caused by the short-term reign of Armando Carneiro as chief soccer officer, and his new status is a testament to a steadier, calmer course for the Lions. In his first full interview since assuming the senior position, Budalic acknowledged the team has been on fast-forward since the end of the regular season, with head coach Jason Kreis bidding to retool for next year following scouting trips to South America and Europe.
“We’re probably at nine-and-a-half on a 10 scale, trying to get as much done before the Christmas holidays as possible,” Budalic said. “I was fortunate to be given the time to work in an assistant capacity and that was a perfect way of learning the ropes and getting to know the different areas of the job.
“Now we’re trying to put the finishing touches to all of Jason’s work. There is always work to be done until contracts are signed and the players are here but those trips were the last stage of the recruitment process. Now it is a question of getting them over the finish line, finalizing the paperwork. Optimistically, we’d like to have all the key pieces in place by the end of this year.”
Despite the manic nature of recent weeks, Budalic is energized by the task at hand.
“It’s very exciting,” he said. “Any time you take on a role in an assistant capacity you are hoping you can prove yourself to take the next step. I think it was always [team president] Phil’s [Rawlins] intention to withdraw himself from the GM role, so that had a lot to do with it.”
Budalic admits it has been something of a baptism by fire throughout 2016, exacerbated by the sudden coaching change and new policies under Kreis.
“All aspects of it were a learning curve, but the biggest adjustment was working with one coaching staff [under Adrian Heath] and then switching midseason,” Budalic said. “When you bring in a new staff you have to reassess and adjust. Fortunately they have a very similar philosophy and ideals, so it wasn’t a total 180. But some of the focus has changed with the way we work as a group.
“Jason has a very inclusive, collaborative approach. He likes everyone to be on the same page and in agreement. We have been more organized and thorough in recruitment, more of a technical change than a philosophical one. It has definitely been more of a step-by-step approach and we are in a much better place than we were 12 months ago.”
Budalic also believes a lot of lessons have been learned over the course of the year. New structures are in place as Kreis puts his mark on the Lions' USL squad, Orlando City B, as well as the first team.
“Last year was the first year in USL and it was always going to be a challenge,” Budalic said. “But, with Jason and [Orlando City B head coach Anthony Pulis] having worked together for six months, we have a more unified approach.
“I would definitely be optimistic we now have everyone on the same page. We have made major modifications at USL level, we have brought in new staff at the academy, and with the first-team staff being settled, we will be in a much better position to take greater steps in 2017.”