ORLANDO — Since Orlando City SC joined Major League Soccer in 2015, the team has struggled to find its identity. The trials, tribulations, all the coaching and front office turnaround have all led up to now.
Five years after the Lions kicked off against New York City FC, the team believes they are finally starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together.
Orlando City’s tandem of head coach Oscar Pareja and EVP of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi have been hard at work through the offseason trying to find those missing pieces of a successful squad.
For Muzzi, Pareja was the foundation piece. Their time together at FC Dallas brought comfortability and a unique understanding between the two positions. Now, having done their due diligence in scouting and signing new players, both feel it is finally time for Orlando City to have its day in the sun.
“I think that we're in a better position to get a lot of things done,” Muzzi said at Orlando City’s media day on Thursday. “But it's a process, It's not overnight. There were lots of things that I saw when I came in, there was a plan, but we just couldn't do it right away. There's things still kind of in the works, and I think that we're going to see in the long run that hopefully, those things will be successful. That's what we all want. That's what we're all working for, but I think we're in a much better position today.”
In MLS, the Lions have yet to match the point total in their inaugural season — 44 under Adrian Heath. Since, Orlando have gone through three head coaches, three general managers and numerous end-of-season roster turnovers that left fans perplexed at the direction the club was heading.
This season, the belief is the vision is clear, the direction is defined, and all that remains is the execution of the plan. With only two weeks before the 25th MLS season kicks off, Pareja and his team are ready to compete.
“There is enough talent on this roster to fight every game to win for sure,” Pareja said, “As a coach, it is our responsibility to believe and to give confidence to the players that you are working with and see that we all need an opportunity to work and to prove that we are good. If there is any other player that can come and join us, it would be great, but I truly believe that this group is strong enough to fight for every point.”
Returning fan favorite Robin Jansson has seen the culture shift Pareja has brought to the team. Joining the Lions just after the start of the 2019 season, the Swedish center back can compare his time last year to now and has been impressed with the level of detail his new coach goes into to prepare his team to play.
“I think Oscar has come in with a lot of passion.” Jansson said, “He's hard, he knows what he wants on the field. The structure, the details are very clear in how I'm going to work in my position and with my other defenders beside me.”
With the players starting to buy into Pareja’s vision, it is now up to those players to take his ideas and put them into action. Orlando have three more preseason tune-ups before the real work begins when they open the season at home against Real Salt Lake Feb. 29 (6 pm ET).
In that time, the players fighting for a spot in the starting lineup will have a chance to prove themselves to the coaching staff.
The Lions will then have to prove to their fans, through the 34-game season, this new vision for their club is what they’ve been missing to find success, and finally make the playoffs for the first time in club history.