ORLANDO, Fla. – Jason Kreis was never in two minds about his long-term future with Orlando City SC. But it was still reassuring to hear CEO Alex Leitão issue a wholehearted endorsement of the Lions head coach last week, affirming that Kreis would definitely be back in 2018.
Now the planning can continue in earnest as the Lions lick their wounds from a third successive season without a playoff appearance, and the departure of iconic star Kaká at the end of this year.
Though no one is more disappointed than the City head coach to be looking back on another failed campaign, Kreis remains convinced the team is still moving in the right direction, albeit with critical offseason roster reshaping ahead.
Speaking to reporters at Wednesday’s big announcement by Kaká, Kreis was in contemplative mood about his first full season at the helm of the Florida club, but also bullish about a major rebuild during the winter.
“It’s nice to have those things said publicly [by Leitão], but it was honestly never really in my mind that it would be any different,” said Kreis. “Going back a couple of months, I meant what I said when I have a long-term contract here and we had a discussion when I came that this was going to be a long-term project.
“This wasn’t about having to make the playoffs in the first four months that I was here or even in the next year. This is about consistency, this is about building something that we think can be truly special for a long, long time.”
Much like Orlando’s first two seasons in MLS, the 2017 campaign will go down as one of great promise but ultimate frustration. After winning six of their first seven games, they went into a summer slump. Off-field issues with Cyle Larin and Will Johnson didn’t help, while injuries to key players like Kaká and Jonathan Spector cropped up at just the wrong moments.
High-profile reinforcements in the shape of Dom Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotun and Dillon Powers ultimately arrived just too late to right the ship, although performances did improve, with only one defeat in their last five games.
“For me there have been a lot of positives,” Kreis explained. “There have been portions of every single game that I’ve seen a lot of stuff that I like. I don’t know there has been a 90-minute performance all season but that is, again, something to build towards. But even in the latter half of the summer, there was a stretch of games when I felt, ‘Man, we are really playing well, but just something continues to go wrong.’
“Overall, our performances for the most part have been positive, and that’s the difficult part about coaching this game. Often times you can have really positive performances and walk out with no result, but you have to put those positives together and believe that if you continue playing in a certain way, the results will stack up. So, again, I think there have been a lot more positives than most people would recognize. It hasn’t been all bad, that’s for sure.”
The arrival of Peruvian international Yotun, who has quickly made a big impression on both the league and the fans, is one of the big positives in Kreis’s book. He is a player they will be looking to build around in the months ahead.
“Yes, we’re really pleased with that acquisition. It’s a testament to doing the right type of scouting,” Kreis said. “When I got here, he was a player I had individually scouted through Copa America last year when I was working for the US national team, so he was on my list. Then I walked in here on day 1 and he was on Orlando City’s list as well, so we had all been watching him a long time and he was somebody we felt very comfortable with.
“So you can see if you do the process right, you can make some really, really good signings. But it takes a lot of work, it takes diligence, and that is another indicator to show people that it takes time to find more players like that, because that will be our objective this offseason as well.”
Kreis suggested there could be a lot of comings and goings in personnel over the next few months as he and general manager Niki Budalic get to grips with a roster with a number of players out of contract and other holes that need filling.
“I am very happy with a lot of the pieces that we have brought here in the last year and half, as well as a lot of the pieces that were already here,” said the coach. “But I do think we have quite a bit of work to do to get to the level where we are consistently winning and consistently playing the way we want to play.”
Would that be three or four new acquisitions?
“I think it could very well be quite a few more than that,” he concluded.