I started The Lion's Teeth early in 2015 as a way to document my observations on the club's first year in MLS. Even though I attended several games in the club's first few seasons and had season tickets for 2014, I considered myself a truly novice fan of soccer a year ago, and I also thought that writing about the club in a blog would be a good way to help me learn more about the sport.
In some ways I feel like I've learned a lot more than I expected I would; in other ways I feel like I'm just getting an appreciation for how little I know about certain aspects of the sport. This off-season, one of the things I want to become more knowledgeable about is the way that contracts, trades, loans, and other roster-building transactions are created and conducted.
Over the course of following the team this year I feel like I learned a lot about what is good about MLS and some of what the league lacks in comparison to the top leagues in the world. One thing I love about MLS is the fact that there is so much parity. I know that clubs like Real Madrid, Bayern-Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, and Barcelona have become household names worldwide because they dominate their respective leagues. But from a competitive standpoint, it takes a lot of the drama out of watching every match these clubs play unless they face off against other top clubs. On a week in and week out basis, there's not really a question of whether the top teams in most European leagues will win, the only question is in the margin of victory, and a close win becomes a source of angst for fans and analysts alike.
I prefer following a league like MLS where even the top team in the league can lose a midseason match to the worst team in the league. That means the fan bases of every club have a reason to hope their team can prevail in any given match, and there's real drama and real uncertainty in every contest. Within the course of an individual match, a particular team may look horrible (there were certainly times in 2015 when Orlando City looked like a bunch of guys that got pulled off the street instead of an organized team), but there are equally games when the same club and the same players can seem unstoppable.
One of the ways that my knowledge of the game increased in 2015 was in being able to see plays develop away from the ball. When the season started I was pretty much fixated on the little white ball bouncing around the pitch all game, but as the season wore on I was more and more able to see how players like Kaka and Cyle Larin and Brek Shea would set themselves up to receive the ball as teammates would launch a counter-attack from deep in their own end. One of my friends in my tailgate group also played goalkeeper in high school, so I learned a lot about defense and goalkeeping during the season.
I also had the pleasure of attending many of the weekly Coach's show broadcasts at Harry Buffalo in the first part of the season. Tom Traxxler and Jeff Radcliffe are both very knowledgeable about the sport, and of course Adrian Heath and Dr. Keith Buckley are veritable founts of knowledge about the game.
One thing I did not have the chance to do much this year is get a chance to sit down with or talk to any of the players on an extended basis. I met a few of them at preseason events in February and March, but otherwise I didn't get a chance to have any interactions with them other than exchanging the occasional tweet. Perhaps that will change in 2016 but it already seems like it's going to be a very busy year in my day job.
I'm certain of this: in 2016 I will continue learning more about the game and enjoying it more. I'm also looking forward to attending the women's matches, since I have bought Orlando Pride season tickets for 2016 as well as renewing my Orlando City season tickets.