We see you. Two years in MLS, two years out of the playoffs.
Where I come from, that gets a hearty round of "Wait 'til next year!" (Or would if this were the '50s. Word to the Trolley Dodgers.)
This is the pain part of having a high-stakes squad. Sometimes, it just doesn't come together. A can't win for losing kind of deal. I've seen it before.
Joining up with the then-New Jersey Nets in 2008, I reported a transition to prominence. All the pieces were there – the merch, the stadium, the potential fanbase – but one bad bet on a superstar-who-wasn't and an aspirational ownership group focused on the flash combined to undermine the effort.
These Lions, they're not there yet. And they will not fall so far.
There's Cyle Larin, who's going to spend the offseason deciding whether he wants to pull on leadership bootstraps with OCSC or accept the siren call of a high-priced, high-profile transfer sure to be on Orlando's proverbial table. The Lions benefit either way, and midseason coaching hire Jason Kreis has already proven he's willing to call out the star striker for middling moments – if Larin steps toward the criticism instead of shrinking away, he goes from goal-scorer to team-unifying force.
Here's where we acknowledge Kreis, who couldn't crack the case at expansion tag team partner New York City FC, after a single season in the Big Apple.
"The challenge of building an expansion project within MLS is extremely difficult," Kreis recently told ESPN FC's Graham Parker. "I don't think anyone gives it its just due – I really don't. It's more difficult than anybody has been able to put into words."
Kreis would know, having taken over at Real Salt Lake in their third season, finishing their 2007 campaign 6-13-7 before rising to an even 10-10-10 in 2008 and raising MLS Cup in 2009. He followed that with last year's 10-17-7 debut with NYCFC, good for eighth in the East.
A look at the league's last decade shows that of nine expansion teams, five made the playoffs by their second season: Seattle in their first; Philadelphia, Vancouver, Montreal and now NYCFC in their second. Portland and San Jose v2.0 each made it in Year Three, while it took Toronto FC nine years before an exit to the rival Impact in last year's Knockout Round. Only Seattle and Toronto (this year, in fact) returned the following season. Of the overall group, the Timbers raised MLS Cup … in Year Five.
That ESPN FC feature outlines much of the experience Kreis feels he gained during that abbreviated stint heading up NYCFC, and the potential he envisions working so closely with your ambitious, involved majority owner, Flavio Augusto da Silva.
Ambition has died many a death by MLS vagaries, and it's the proper channeling that results in the development. Nailing the DPs is one key element, and after two years, we're pretty sure Kaká is still effective – but what do we know about Carlos Rivas (19 starts) and Bryan Rochez (On loan to Honduras' Real CD Espana)?
Kreis must quickly determine how they fit into his plan, whether the Lions are best served developing them for the roster – with a new designation? – or into an alphabet soup asset. It's likely other teams wouldn't hang up a phone call, which means there are options.
Options are good. This is a truism, and a truth. Just this season, Colorado, Philadelphia and Real Salt Lake tagged along with NYC as 2015 outsiders entering the playoff party. Orlando City is not far off. In MLS, you never are.
Atlanta and Minnesota join the league next year. There's a lot of attention. A lot of anticipation. A lot of a lot.
But that's for them.
In Year Three, y'all will be old hands at this, Orlando. Entering a new stadium, but having been through some stuff. This is being a fan. This is what makes the wins worth it. You'll remember this one day. At the parade.
All in time.