Jason Kreis is out, and Orlando City are once again riding a merry-go-round of their own making.
The Lions parted ways with Kreis on Friday, dismissing the veteran head coach a little less than two years after he took over for Adrian Heath midway through 2016. Despite a couple of intoxicating highs, things never really clicked for Kreis in Florida. A red-hot start to the 2017 season (6W-1L-0D) and a six-game winning streak earlier this year turned out to be more mirage than reality, with the Lions fading miserably last summer and following up this year’s winning streak with their ongoing six-game losing skid.
Wednesday’s embarrassing 3-0 loss at Montreal proved to be the last straw. The defeat – their third straight loss by three goals – dropped Orlando into a tie for sixth in the East with Chicago. They’ve been outscored, 17-5, during their losing streak, a remarkable run of futility that’s exposed significant problems on their roster. Kreis leaves the club with an underwhelming 21W-29L-14D record in MLS play.
Considering how much they spent this winter, it’s understandable why Orlando felt the need to change something. The club seemed confident their revamped core of Dom Dwyer, Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan and Uri Rosell would be more than enough to propel them to their first MLS Cup Playoffs appearance, and it didn't seem Kreis was getting them there. Fair play.
Yet that follows a decision to let Kreis completely rebuild the roster this offseason – 14 new players were acquired – only to fire him after 15 matches with the new group. If Kreis's leash was so short, Orlando may have been better off parting ways with him over the winter rather than letting him overhaul the roster in a way that now threatens to limit their future flexibility. That switch from long- to short-term focus was a criticism leveled at Orlando after Adrian Heath was let go a season and a half into their MLS adventure. That conversation will invariably be raised here once again.
From the moment they fell out of playoff contention last year, there was immense pressure on Kreis to win in 2018; he approached the season accordingly. Kreis orchestrated a series of moves that improved Orlando’s roster, particularly in the attack, but left them without much wiggle room for reinforcements if things turned sour. That’s what’s happened over the last six weeks, as Orlando’s defense – which missed injured captain Jonathan Spector for nine straight matches – fell apart just as their attack hit a dry patch.
The roster has enough time and talent to turn things around in 2018, but – if they don’t respond to interim head coach Bobby Murphy or Kreis’s eventual full-time replacement, if one is brought in prior to the end of the campaign – they could find themselves in search of a new solution this offseason.
Heading into 2019, Orlando will be tied to expensive contracts for Dwyer, Meram and Kljestan, all of whom stand to re-prove their worth to a new coach, possibly in a new system. They might end up needing another offseason overhaul, perhaps along the backline, to compete in an increasingly competitive East in 2019. It could take going back to square one – again – before reaching the contender status they've eagerly sought since their opening MLS season in 2015.
That would unlikely sit well with anyone in Orlando, a club and city with plenty of ambition. But ambition isn't enough. If Orlando want a real shot at hitting their lofty goals, it might mean stomaching some painful losing stretches if that's what it takes to stick to a clear, long-term strategy.