ORLANDO, Fla. – While Jason Kreis may be entering his second full season in charge of Orlando City SC, this may be the first where he fields a squad built more or less entirely in his image.
While the Lions lost Brazilian star Kaká to retirement and leading goalscorer Cyle Larin to Europe, Orlando general manager Niki Budalic and Kreis have made 12 new signings since last season ended in their attempt to make this a playoff-caliber squad.
“This offseason we went into it [as if] now we basically have a clean slate,” Kreis told reporters on Monday. “We can really do what we want with all the players, and I think we took a very aggressive approach to that.”
“The truth of the matter is as coach and general manager, when you come into a new group you are going to be restricted from certain things,” Kreis said. “Some of those things are contracts. You don’t always have the ability to move the players you exactly feel like you should.
“We collectively ... made a very solid plan a little bit over a year ago, and we decided we need to tinker around the edges,” Kreis added. “Some of that was we didn’t have many options as maybe I would’ve liked, so we felt very positive. If we just tinkered around the edges, and we were a little bit better, we’ll be a playoff team.”
That didn't happen, leading to a more dramatic overhaul this time around. For Kreis, it’s quite reminiscent to his early days at RSL.
“When we took over Real Salt Lake in May 2007, that moment until the middle of 2008, we changed 25 of 28 players. From the time we took over [in Orlando] to right now, we changed 21 of 28 players,” said Kreis.
Among those 12 players Orlando brought in this offseason include: Goalkeeper Adam Grinwis from Saint Louis FC, defenders RJ Allen, Mohamed El-Munir and Amro Tarek, midfielders Oriol Rosell, Cam Lindley, Jose Villarreal, Josue Colman and Sacha Kljestan.
“I’m very excited about this season. It was a very busy offseason,” Orlando City CEO Alex Leitao said. “Jason [Kreis] and his team and Niki [Budalic] did an incredible job in bringing talent to the group. Good character to the group, so I’m pleased with the team that we have now.
“This was part of the strategy we talked about after last season, when this moment last year we decided to move one step ahead and we saw the other teams in our conference do two steps, so that was a time for us to move in doing something stronger in terms of making our roster better,” Leitao added.
Kreis believes the changes indisputably make the Lions better, though his postseason forecast was one of only cautious optimism.
“It’s been a very difficult and very busy offseason for us,” said Kreis. “We made some bold moves as everyone can see. We’re doing that with a particular goal in mind, and that is to improve the team to a level where we’re competing week in and week out, to a level where we can hopefully make the playoffs. Because that’s everybody’s first and foremost objective in this league."