Adrian Heath agitated on the Orlando City sidelines
USA Today Sports

After dominating USL PRO, Orlando City begin preparing for MLS arrival sooner than expected

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla – By the end of the night Saturday, all that was accomplished this season by the Orlando City Soccer Club was overshadowed by one bad outing.

After the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Orlando City players dropped to the turf in disbelief after being unceremoniously eliminated in the opening round of the USL PRO playoffs. The Lions limped through an uninspired 1-0 loss against eighth-seeded Harrisburg City, breaking a string of 19-straight home wins and ending their pursuit of back-to-back titles before moving up to Major League Soccer in 2015.

“It’s sad that a season we had, with all the records we’ve broken, ends with that type of performance,” Orlando City coach Adrian Heath said afterward. “But hey, that’s football, that’s the way it goes. That’s the way sport is, with winners and losers in the playoffs.”

The loss comes on the heels of a tough stretch for the club during the final month-and-a-half of the season. After starting the year with an 18-match unbeaten streak dating back to 2013, the Lions finished 5-4-1 as they alternated wins and losses in matches dating back to the end of July.

The Lions entered Saturday with a 45-4-10 mark all-time at home and led the league in goals scored (56) and fewest goals allowed (24) this season. Their four-year reign included three regular season titles, two championships, and a regular-season record 19 wins in 2014.

“What we’ve done with the records will stand the test of time,” Heath said. “We’ve broken somany records over the last two or three years. Every one of the players [in the locker room] have all contributed incredibly to the growth of this football club. Without the wins that we’ve had the last four years, we probably wouldn’t be going to MLS.”

The Lions currently have seven players under contract for next season’s MLS debut but only four were available Saturday, including midfielders Kevin Molino and Estrela, and defenders Tommy Redding and Tyler Turner.

Molino set new USL Pro records in goals scored (20) and total points (49) while also leading the league with nine assists, but was held without a shot in the loss. He’ll help lead the charge to MLS moving forward, with potentially three or four current teammates being asked to remain on board.

Midfielder Darwin Ceren and defender Rafael Ramos are under contract for next year but were unavailable for selection Saturday. Kaka is expected to join the club or preseason training.

Until then, Orlando City has plenty of work to do to prepare for its jump to MLS. Heath said after Saturday’s loss that he planned to notify players by the end of the weekend where they stand with the club as preparations get underway for next year a little sooner than expected.

“We’re pretty much aware of what we’re going to do moving forward and we’ll try to inform the lads as early as possible, because some of these guys, there will be a lot of people that want them,” Heath said. “A lot of these players who we don’t take [to MLS] are not going to have any shortage of people who want them.”