They say to always make a good first impression, so I struggled immensely on writing my first article for Lionsblog. Being a kid from New England (Revs fan, mind you), how can I possibly showcase my ball knowledge about Orlando City while equally being a fun and energetic beat writer? Regardless, I got to work. Here’s the 2022 season preview for Orlando City SC.
Last year, Orlando City had plenty of ups and downs. Out of the gate, the Lions looked to be amongst the top contenders in the Eastern Conference, going on a 6-game unbeaten run. With the Supporters Shield in their sights, things began to crumble. The combination of injuries and a compacted run of games caused their form to slide, with the Lions dropping points and clinching playoffs barely on the final day. The regular season record finished at 13-12-9. The season ended in disappointment as the Lions were defeated at the hands of the Nashville SC in the first round of the playoffs. Orlando City opened the scoring but were sent home after 3 consecutive goals from Nashville. Overall, I feel the club can view last season as a success. A second straight trip to the playoffs is a great sign of the foundations of a winning mentality that Orlando City is beginning to build.
The benchmark for the season is making playoffs and acting like you want to stay there. Despite scoring first, Nashville completely controlled the outcome of that playoff match. Playoffs are a different beast, and the Lions need to be ready to feast if they are to qualify. My main key for this season is establishing a style of play. Admittedly my knowledge of Orlando City’s tactics are minimal at the moment, but I hope to identify a formation and tactical plan in the opening games for the Lions. Controlling games, being creative, and creating maximum chances should push the Lions into more wins and getting themselves a higher seed in the conference.
3 Things to Look For
1. Getting New Signings Acclimated - and Fast
Former Captain Nani, U.S. youngster Daryl Dike, and winger Chris Mueller are no longer around. The Lions went to work in the offseason, acquiring Austrian forward Ercan Kara and Uruguayan playmaker Facundo Torres to help balance out the attack with the offseason losses. However, Orlando City better hope these new faces can become adjusted quickly. Kara has already picked up a preseason injury and Torres is still very young. The offense is going to depend heavily on their production this season.
2. Keeping Good Form for the Long Run
Orlando City started out really hot in the 2021 season but hit a breaking point that forced them to squeak out as many points as possible just to make the playoffs. Already losing some key players in the offseason, including leader and Captain Nani, it’s going to take mental strength from this group to turn “hot streaks' ' into consistent, quality form of play. Especially with the talented Eastern Conference consisting of the Revolution, NYC FC, Union, and more.
3. Proper Introduction of the Youth
Squad depth may be the most underrated aspect of a team’s success. Injuries are so common with busy schedules and legs need rest. Early in the preseason, the Lions were able to get some youngsters out on the pitch to play quality minutes, including the likes of Thomas Williams, Alex Freeman, and Jack Lynn. MLS academies are excellent for the development of young talent and allowing rising MLS players to grow, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Orlando City calls on some of these young men early on in the season. These young guns are the future and Pareja should look to get them touches early to continue the “Pareja Project”. Besides, you gotta love the kids.
Ercan Kara - striker - Rapid Wien
Facundo Torres - winger - Penarol
Cesar Araujo - midfielder- Montevideo Wanderers
Alex Freeman - fullback- homegrown player
Jack Lynn - forward - University of Notre Dame
Information on Season Opener
The Lions will open their 2022 season against CF Montreal on Sunday, February 27th at 1:00 pm EST in their home stadium. Montreal did not make the playoffs last year due to a loss in their last match of the season. Ironically, who was the victorious team on the day? You guessed it, Orlando City won 2-0 in Montreal's backyard.
The season opener match can be viewed on ESPN +, Fox 35 Plus, and LionNation TV. The first match is always one where fans like to make crazy conclusions. If the Lions lose, there goes the season!!! In all seriousness, I want to see Orlando play progressive, play direct, and attack with intensity. So often teams just get focused on keeping possession, and that’s great, but do something with the ball. Get Torres on the ball early and often as well. He’s a creative player who needs the ball to be effective and by all means, he should have the opportunity to terrorize his defender. Lastly, control the width of the pitch. Montreal usually implements a 3 back system with wing-backs. Get wide, and try to capitalize on the counter. Keep things tidy to prevent being caught in transition and we may need to see the central midfield put in a SHIFT covering space. A 4 back vs a 3 back is going to cause gaps of space in attacking areas.