Orlando City SC Profile
Success in the lower division may not have transitioned into MLS success. However, Orlando City are a rather desirable team who will be looking to change their fortunes sooner rather than later.
Orlando City SC were announced as the 21st team in MLS in November 2013 and they began to compete in the 2015 season. The process started in 2010 when the owners of the Orlando City SC team in the USL Pro League, the third tier of soccer in the United States, announced their intention to move up. Phil Rawlins was the main investor who met with MLS during the early years and Orlando City eventually replaced Chivas USA.
Rawlins is now a minority owner to Flavio Augusto da Silva. The Orlando group also owns the Orlando Pride in the National Women's Soccer League and Orlando City B in USL1. The club logo was unveiled in 2014, with the team name remaining as the Lions from the USL side. The Lion is featured on the crest with the colour purple behind the mane. The mane has 21 sun flares to represent the club as MLS' 21st team and Florida as the Sunshine State. The home kit has always been purple, with the away kit being white with purple stripes.
In their first five years of existence, Orlando City didn't have much success in MLS play. They finally saw some in 2020 with a run to the MLS is Back Tournament finals and their first appearance in the MLS Cup play-offs. They have had four full-time managers and two interim managers in six years. None of them has a winning record.
Kaka and Nani have featured as Designated Players. US national team players Jonathan Spector, Dom Dwyer, Sacha Kljestan and Chris Mueller, as well as Canadian youngster Tesho Akindele, have also represented Orlando.
Orlando City's transition to MLS
The Lions played four seasons in the USL with plenty of success. They finished in first place in the regular season in 2011, 2012 and 2014, while finishing second in 2013. They won the USL Championship in both 2011 and 2013. They made the semi-finals of the play-offs in 2012 along with the quarter-finals in 2014. They also reached the US Open Cup quarter-finals in 2013. Eight players, plus manager Adrian Heath, transitioned with the club to MLS for the 2015 season.
Before that 2015 season, they signed Brazilian superstar Kaka from AC Milan and broke ground on a new soccer-specific stadium in Orlando. They used the first overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft to select forward Cyle Larin from the University of Connecticut and drafted defender Conor Donovan from NC State. In the Expansion Draft with NYCFC, they took goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts, along with midfielders Tony Cascio and Lewis Neal. They also picked up USMNT midfielder Brek Shea and Honduran forward Bryan Rochez.
Their first MLS game was a 1-1 home draw against the other new MLS team, NYCFC, on March 8. The game drew 62,510 fans to the Citrus Bowl, their temporary home, and Kaka scored the equaliser in the 91st minute. Their first win came five days later, 1-0 thanks to an own goal in Houston. The Lions were shut out in each of their first four losses but had a five-match unbeaten streak from May 17 through June 14. In that stretch, they won three and outscored their opponents 11-6. They also defeated Columbus Crew 2-0 in the last 16 of the US Open Cup before losing 3-1 to Chicago Fire in the quarter-finals.
They hit a slump in mid-July and lost three in a row and seven of 10. September was much better though, with five straight wins as they tallied 13 goals in those games. A loss in the final game of the regular season left the Lions five points off a play-off spot as they won 12, drew eight and lost 14 while finishing with a -10 goal difference over the campaign. Larin led the team with 17 goals, while Kaka scored nine times and added a team-best six assists. Ricketts had kept two clean sheets before he was traded mid-season and Tally Hall started 22 games in goal with five clean sheets.
Before the 2016 season, the Lions drafted midfielders Richie Laryea and Hadji Barry in the first round while trading for goalkeeper Joe Bendik. They also added defenders Devron Garcia and Kevin Alston while releasing Hall and Neal. The new stadium had construction delays, so the Lions were back at Camping World Stadium/Citrus Bowl for the entire season.
They started the season with two draws and two wins before their first loss of the campaign. They then won just twice between April 8 and July 31 in league play. Heath was fired after a 4-0 defeat at FC Dallas on July 4 and replaced by interim manager Bobby Murphy for four games. The Lions drew three of those games and hired former NYCFC and Real Salt Lake manager Jason Kreis on July 24. His first game in charge was a 3-1 home win over New England, but Orlando City lost two of the next four, with two draws, before consecutive wins.
They lost four of the final seven and finished one point outside a play-off spot with 41 points from 34 games. Larin again finished the season as the leading scorer with 14 goals, one more than Kevin Molino, while Kaka scored nine times. Bendik started all 34 MLS games with 3,060 minutes played and five clean sheets.
Orlando City and the Jason Kreis era
Kreis got his first full season with Orlando City in 2017 as former owner Phil Rawlins took a reduced role as club president, with the day-to-day operations going to CEO Alex Leitao. Molino and Shea were traded while Orlando City added USMNT defender Jonathan Spector from Birmingham City and signed goalkeeper Josh Saunders. Orlando City finally moved into their new stadium as well in 2017.
They christened their new ground on March 5 against NYCFC with a sell-out crowd of 25,527 fans and a 1-0 win thanks to a goal by Larin. They won six of their first seven games overall, including their first five at home. A six-game winless streak followed and Orlando City won just once between April 29 and September 9. They were also eliminated from the US Open Cup 3-1 by Miami FC in the fourth round. Orlando City then added forward Dom Dwyer from Sporting KC. They beat New England 6-1 on September 27 with two goals from Kaka, his last for the club. A loss on the final day of the season left Orlando City in 10th place out of 11 teams in the East with a -19 goal difference. Larin led the team with 12 goals, while Kaka scored six and added four assists. Bendik had seven clean sheets in 33 starts.
The 2018 season started without Kaka, who retired in December 2017. The Lions brought in USMNT midfielder Sacha Kljestan from NY Red Bulls and added midfielder Josue Colman from Paraguay. They drafted forward Chris Mueller in the MLS SuperDraft and sold Larin to Besiktas in Turkey. Midfielder Justin Meram joined from Columbus and centre-back Spector replaced Kaka as captain.
Orlando City started the season with a draw and two losses before winning six straight games with a total of 17 goals scored. Things fell apart from there though, and after six consecutive losses, Kreis was fired on June 15. His final game in charge was a 3-0 loss at Montreal Impact and assistant Brian Murphy again took over as interim manager. Former Lions player and Louisville City manager James O'Connor took over on July 2. Still, Orlando only won twice in their final 18 MLS games and they finished dead last in the East with a -31 goal difference. They did make a run to the US Open Cup quarter-finals but lost at Philadelphia 1-0. Dwyer led the team with 13 goals, while Kljestan had six goals and five assists over the season.
Orlando City taste success
Orlando City changed general managers before the 2019 season, with Luiz Muzzi joining FC Dallas. Before he left, he sold Amro Tarek, Mohamed El Monir and Yoshimar Yotun while releasing Spector, Laryea and Bendik. Orlando City traded for forward Tesho Akindele and defender Joao Moutinho, and later in the season added midfielders Robinho and Mauricio Pereyra. The significant addition was former Manchester United and Portugal national team winger Nani on a Designated Player deal from Sporting Lisbon.
They drew their first two games and won three of five between March 23 and April 20. Goals were hard to come by as the Lions were shut out four times between May 4 and June 26. In the US Open Cup, they beat Memphis 901 3-1 in the fourth round and then New England Revolution 2-1 via an extra-time goal from Akindele. They made it past the quarter-finals for the first time on July 10 with a win in a penalty shoot-out over NYCFC. The dream run ended on August 6 with a 2-0 home loss to Atlanta United in the semi-finals. Meanwhile, in MLS, Orlando City finished 11th in the East and 22nd overall in the regular-season standings with 37 points from 34 games.
Nani led the team with 12 goals and five assists in 26 starts, while Akindele scored 10 times. Brian Rowe started 32 games in goal and posted seven clean sheets.
O'Connor was fired on October 7 and Orlando City hired former FC Dallas manager Oscar Pareja to take over. They brought in Colombian midfielder Andres Perea, Brazilian midfielder Junior Urso, Peru goalkeeper Pedro Gallese and Argentine defender Rodrigo Schlegel. Kljestan left for LA Galaxy while Orlando City drafted forward Daryl Dike from the University of Virginia.
The 2020 season started with a draw and a loss before COVID-19 suspended the campaign. At the MLS is Back Tournament in July in Orlando, the Lions faced new rivals Inter Miami for the first time. They won 2-1 with a 97th-minute goal from Nani and then beat NYCFC 3-1. Orlando City won their group with a 1-1 draw against Philadelphia Union and Akindele's goal beat Montreal 1-0 in the round of 16. In the quarter-finals, they upset LAFC on penalties after Moutinho had tied the game in the 90th minute. Orlando City were the underdogs again in the semi-finals, but they knocked out Minnesota United 3-1 as Nani scored twice in the first half. In the tournament championship, Pereyra tied the game against Portland in the 39th minute, but Orlando City ultimately lost 2-1, finishing as runners-up.
When the regular season resumed, the Lions lost to Inter Miami 3-2 on the road before going 12 in a row unbeaten. That franchise-record streak put them near the top of the standings and they won three straight after another loss to Miami on October 24. However, a final-game defeat to Nashville left them in fourth place. In the play-offs for the first time, Orlando City hosted No. 5 seeds NYCFC in the first round. Nani scored in the fifth minute to put Orlando City ahead. Later, NYCFC tied the game, and then more bad news came as Ruan was sent off in the 87th minute for kicking an opponent in the thigh. In the penalty shoot-out, the Lions took an early lead, but keeper Gallese was sent off after leaving his line early. Defender Schlegel then stepped in to make the game-winning save. In the conference semi-finals, the Lions lost 3-1 to New England, ending their best MLS season.
Mueller led the team with 10 goals and six assists, while rookie Dike added eight goals. Nani scored six times and provided four assists in 2020, while Gallese posted three clean sheets in 19 starts.
With the fourth-place finish in the East, Orlando City qualified for the 2021 Leagues Cup, which will feature eight MLS teams and eight Liga MX sides. Meanwhile, the Lions lost Kamal Miller in the 2020 Expansion Draft, and they decided not to re-sign Dwyer or Robinho.
Orlando City's rivals
With just six years in the league, there aren't many natural rivals for the Lions. Until the 2020 season, Atlanta United were the closest geographically, but in 2020, Inter Miami FC joined MLS and the two cities are separated by just over 200 miles. The two Florida teams met four times in the first season, with one of those games being at the MLS is Back Tournament. The Lions took that game 2-1 while Inter won the first-ever MLS game against Orlando on August 22. Orlando City won at home 2-1 on September 12 and Inter Miami won the final contest on October 24.
Orlando City's top players
Orlando City have brought in big names on Designated Player contracts, with Kaka and Nani being the biggest international stars. They have also drafted well with Chris Mueller, Tesho Akindele and Daryl Dike among their MLS SuperDraft picks. Kevin Molino started his US soccer career in Orlando before moving through to Minnesota United and now Columbus Crew, while Dom Dwyer and Jonathan Spector brought some USMNT name recognition to the Lions.
Cristian Higuita has the most appearances for the club at 108, 13 more than Mueller heading into 2021. Cyle Larin scored a team-record 18 goals in 2015, 17 of those in MLS games. He scored 44 career goals, the most by any Lions player. Kaka left with 25 goals while Dwyer scored 24. Nani (21), Mueller (19) and Akindele (18) all enter the 2021 season in the top six on the career goals list.
Joe Bendik recorded 13 clean sheets for the Lions while Brian Rowe enters 2021 with eight. Kaka, Larin, Dwyer, Yoshimar Yotun and Nani have represented the Lions as MLS All-Stars, with Kaka winning the 2015 All-Star Game MVP and Dwyer scoring against Real Madrid in the 2017 contest.