Orlando City SC is hoping to make the MLS Playoffs this season in only club’s second season in the league. Having spent generously on players last season many around the club saw the performances particularly in midseason as a disappointment. Still Manager Adrian Heath returns for a second season as the club’s MLS coach an either year leading the team dating back to the Lions time as the Austin Aztex of the USL First Division in 2009.
The Lions inconsistency last year owed itself largely to injuries, international call-ups and perhaps a certain naively about the league from the front office. Following an offseason of tumult where front office staff was shuttled in and out while every other MLS team made offseason moves to improve, optimism has returned in the last few weeks to fans of the club. Several reasons for why Orlando fans have reason to be upbeat about the season ahead.
1- Playing in the Eastern Conference
The gap between the best in the East and even the middle of the West seems to be growing. A strong argument can be made that entering this season six of the top seven teams in the league are in the Western Conference, the New York Red Bulls being the lone exception. The Eastern Conference also boasts arguably three of the four worst teams in the league. Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City will all struggle mightily this season and Orlando should be able to pick up something approaching maximum points from them. Since six teams in each conference make the playoffs, Orlando will just have to edge out one of DC United, New England or Toronto FC to make it this season.
2- The Addition of Antonio Nocerino
Antonio Nocerino has bounced around Europe the last few years being loaned from AC Milan around the circuit of teams in the Italian Serie A and English Premier League. But he’s an accomplished pro who will bring a veteran savvy to Orlando. Nocerino also brings complementary skills to what Kaka offers, giving the Lions one of the most dynamic and accomplished central midfield pairings in the league. Nocerino is a tenacious ball-winner, something Orlando lacked last season and can operate as a box-to-box player or a holder. Last season it seemed Orlando signed players for various reasons including potential fan appeal. In Nocerino, they have spent big on a Designated Player (DP) that actually fills a real need.
3- Massive Fan Support
Orlando has a home-field advantage unlike any other team in the Eastern Conference save maybe Columbus on fall nights in the Ohio Capital. The crowd support, especially from the supporters sections, willed the Lions to several results last season when the chips were down. They could make an even bigger impact this season.
Orlando City opens its 2016 MLS Campaign on Sunday at 2 p.m. at the Citrus Bowl against Real Salt Lake.