So Long, Cyle Larin

The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that Cyle Larin has stated, “I think I’m at the right place to go play in Europe and it’s the right time. I think I’ll benefit. I have personal goals and dreams and I want to go to Europe and play. I think it’s the right time.”

With that, he appears ready to exercise an option in his contract to test the waters and not return to Orlando City for the 2018 season. To Larin, I have a statement and a question. The statement is, "Good luck, son. I hope it works out for you."

My question is, "What makes you think you are capable of playing in Europe after three years of diminishing returns in the MLS?"

Cyle Larin became a household name in MLS in 2015 when he scored 17 goals and won Rookie of the Year honors. But in 2016 Larin only scored 14 goals, and in 2017 he only managed to score 12 goals. In his first two seasons, Larin led the entire Orlando City organization in scoring, but in 2017 he was outscored in fewer games by a player nine years his senior with a lot more mileage in the legs: Marta. In 23 appearances for the Orlando Pride, Marta managed to score 13 goals, leading all scorers in Orlando City's constituent professional clubs. Larin's 12 goals came in 28 appearances and 24 starts.

I believe that MLS is a league on the rise and that every year the talent level across the league gets a little bit better and the players coming to MLS from Europe get a little bit younger. At the same time, I will not try to argue with fans who have been watching the game for decades and say there is still a big gap in talent between MLS and the top clubs in European leagues. In fact, economics would dictate that MLS has a long way to go before it can compete with the top European leagues for the best soccer talent in the world. The facts are that many European leagues have no salary caps, and on any given MLS match day you will find more kits in the stands from top EPL, La Liga, and Serie A teams than you will from the visiting opponent.

So if MLS defenders have found a way to shave 30% from Larin's scoring ability in three seasons, how much more quickly and how much further will the defenders in Europe cut his chances to put balls in the back of the net? 

And for those of us who have watched Larin play over the last three seasons, we have learned he has a bad habit of taking long stretches of the match off, even when he's on the pitch. I saw in his first season that in the games when he ran from one side of the pitch to the other for the full 90 minutes he was far more effective at scoring. His constant movement kept defenders having to chase him all over the pitch and it would eventually wear them out, giving Larin more chances to be open and more one-on-one opportunities against the opposing keeper.

I'm not sure what has happened to him, but in the last two seasons, Cyle Larin has seemed to grow roots from his feet at times. Sometimes it looked like such a struggle for him to pick his feet up and run around when he did not have the ball. Then when someone would pass him the ball, Larin would act surprised that three or four defenders would be able to collapse down on him or get between himself and goal making it much harder to score.

I can promise Mr. Larin that if I could see that kind of inconsistent play while sitting in the stands or at the sports bar with a beer in my hand, then every personnel officer from every club in Europe was seeing the same thing. Frankly, I only want players on my team who will give their full effort for every minute they are on the pitch, so I really don't think Orlando City is losing much if they let Cyle Larin go.

But if he thinks he's going to go to Europe and somehow transform from a mediocre MLS striker into some kind of world-class superstar, then I think he's in for a rude awakening. If he pulls the same kind of nonsense of standing around waiting for the ball to come to him in Europe, he's going to quickly be watching everyone else get put onto the pitch while he gets loaned out to ride the bench for teams further down the European soccer pyramid, until he finds himself a perpetual substitute in the European equivalent of the NPSL or something.

In my opinion, Cyle Larin has squandered his chance to give himself an opportunity to go to a great club in Europe. The model he should have followed was to score 20 or more goals in 2016 and then dedicate himself to the goal of winning the Golden Boot in MLS for 2017 by any means necessary. That means watching the effort and energy of every player who outscored him the year before and being determined to work harder and give more effort than those players in the following season.

Instead, Larin seems to live under the delusion that his Rookie of the Year win in 2015 was sufficient to make him desirable to any club in Europe any time he wanted to leave MLS. Maybe he's worried about hurting himself by trying too hard in his second and third seasons in Orlando. Maybe he thinks that trying to help his team reach the MLS playoffs is a goal too far beneath his immeasurable talent. Maybe he thinks that Adrian Heath and Jason Kreis are just too old-fashioned to know anything and he can't learn anything from them. Maybe he thinks Kaka is an old washed-up has-been and if he wants pointers he can get them from his obvious future European teammates like Neymar or Messi or Ronaldo--or maybe the young Larin fancies that he will be the one dispensing sage advice to the older European superstars.

Of course, time will tell if my misgivings are correct or if Larin will indeed flourish in Europe. If he does manage to find success and work his way to the top leagues over there, I will be happy for him. And I will say proudly that I had a chance to see him score every one of his goals in his first year as a pro. Because, of course, that's my right as a fan: I get to choose what I cheer for and what I conveniently brush under the carpet and forget.

But right now, I've got the sinking feeling that Cyle Larin's experience in Europe is not going to be much different than his first-year teammate, Brek Shea. After making an early splash with Dallas, Shea tested the waters in Europe and wound up spending most of his time on the bench and never really being able to get much playing time before returning to MLS. It's taken two stops, but now with Vancouver Shea seems to be finally coming into his own.

So for Cyle Larin, I have just one more thing to say, paraphrasing the words of the late great Tom Petty:

Go. Just go.
But remember good clubs are hard to find.
You got lucky, Babe,
When we found you.

A Modest Proposal for the Orlando City Front Office

Summary

There are too many excuses being made for Orlando City's MLS side, and there are too many short-sighted calls by fans for heads to roll from the coaching staff to the roster to the front office. I offer an alternative:

  • Performance based Pay.
  • Allocate the MLS, USL, and NWSL payrolls to the teams in order of best PPG performance.
  • MLS side coach and player leadership should voluntarily swap their paychecks with NWSL counterparts.

The Problem at Hand

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

With these words, Charles Dickens opened his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. However, he might as well have been talking about the 2017 Orlando City Soccer Club's constituent teams. Two of the three teams under the club are meeting the expectations of fans, and one is falling far short. As the season winds down, the USL side OCB is solidly in the playoff hunt, earning results in its last 12 consecutive matches, dating back to June 23. Likewise the Orlando Pride have earned results in six consecutive matches dating back to August 5, and has outright won their last five matches. So for those of us lucky enough to have season tickets for one or both of those teams it certainly feels like it could be the best of times.

Then consider the hapless MLS team. OCSC's MLS side is winless in their last eight matches, and has managed only two wins since the end of April. After the win on April 29, the team was sitting atop the Eastern Conference table. Now the club is sitting 10th on the table and there's no reason to expect that they will be able to avoid falling to the very bottom of the table after facing DC United at RFK Stadium next Saturday night. It certainly can't be anything but the worst of times for fans of the MLS side.

The Fans' Frustration

Many armchair pundits among the fan base, and many other social media outlets are pointing fingers and bellyaching about who is to blame for the problems of the MLS side. Arguments abound over whether the coaching staff is to blame, whether there are problems in the locker room in terms of the tactics or strategy the team should use, or whether there has been so much chaos in the Front Office in terms of people responsible for player personnel that the roster is akin to a mismatched jigsaw puzzle box containing 500 pieces from four different sets. To me, all of that is a waste of time and smacks of nothing but excuses. The club does not need excuses at this point; it needs to make a bold statement that will send a clear message to all the teams in the organization. It can also send a message to every league under the umbrella of US Soccer at the same time if they follow my recommendation for a modest proposal based on the performance of each team.

I call my proposal modest, and when judged by the standard of pure merit and performance it is the very essence of modesty. Since the modern world and the world of professional sport rarely operates on the principles of merit and performance, my proposal would mean defying the league rules of the MLS and the NWSL as well as those of the US Soccer federation. But my proposal just might send the message that the coaches and players of the MLS side need to feel as well as hear in order to quit screwing around and start playing quality football.

A Modest Proposal: Performance-based Pay

My proposal is to assign compensation by team based on each team's performance on the pitch. Thus the entire salary allocation for the MLS side within OCSC would be paid to the team that has the best performance in terms of points per match earned, the salary allocation for the USL side would be paid to the team with the second best performance in terms of points per match earned, and the salary allocation for the NWSL side would be paid to the team with the worst performance of the bunch.

Under this system, for 2017 we would add up all the DP money, Generation Adidas money, Targeted Allocation money, and MLS salary cap money from the OCSC MLS side's roster of 30 players and split it proportionally among the 20 players on the Orlando Pride roster. Likewise, Tom Sermanni and his staff would be paid the salary that is now being drawn by Jason Kreis and his assistants. After all, in a season with only 24 games, it seems pretty apparent that both Marta and Alex Morgan will finish the year with more goals scored than Cyle Larin, the leading scorer on the Orlando City MLS team. So why shouldn't they be rewarded for superior performance?

And on the flip side, of course, the MLS lads would be punished in their wallets. The 30 players on the roster would have to split the NWSL salary cap of $315,000 among them, and no single player on the team could collect more than $41,700 in salary for the season. Similarly, Jason Kreis and his staff would have to learn to live on the salary drawn by Coach Tom Sermanni and his staff.

This season the USL side would be unaffected. The USL has the second highest payroll of the three teams and sits second in terms of the points earned per match played. The Orlando Pride have earned 35 points from 21 matches (1.67 ppm); OCB has earned 36 points from 26 matches (1.38 ppm); and hapless OCSC has earned only 31 points from 27 matches (1.15 ppm).

As fans it is in our nature to want to find and assign blame when we see things going contrary to our wishes. I care not one whit for trying to place blame. I simply want to see performance rewarded and incompetence punished. That's what makes my proposal so modest, logical, and sensible. Unfortunately, the rules governing salaries in the three different leagues that Orlando City's constituent teams are aligned would probably prohibit the team from taking such a sensible approach to address the situation. 

An Appeal to Team Leaders

So I call upon the two main leaders of the MLS side to voluntarily swap salaires with their counterparts on the Orlando Pride. Jason Kreis--I don't want to hear excuses; I demand results. Until you can put your team into the playoffs, I demand that you trade your salary with Tom Sermanni, who has proven he can coach his team to the highest level of performance within the club. And Kaka--I don't care where you used to play or what awards you've won. Until you score more goals and create more assists than anyone on any of the teams in the club, you don't deserve to draw the highest salary. Until you can back up your paycheck with performance that deserves it, I demand that you swap salaries with Marta. Learn to eat a little humble pie until you can whip your teammates into a band of legitimate contenders working in concert like a well-oiled machine.

That is my modest proposal. Those are my demands. Are there any other fans in the Orlando City multiverse who feel the same way I do, or am I simply a lone voice crying in the wilderness, seeking justice in an unjust world? Let me know in the comments below!

Opinion: VAR is Here, and I'm Still Not Convinced

Opinion: VAR -- I'm Still Not Convinced

So I've read a lot and watched a lot of video about VAR. During last off-season, I even had a chance to [http://lionsteethblog.com/blog/2017/1/8/interview-with-soccer-refs-part-two-soccer-in-the-usa]interview a pair of MLS Referees[/link] who talked about how VAR has been used in other countries and other leagues and the training MLS referees would receive. I even asked Coach Jason Kreis at the recent "Ask The Coach" event for his thoughts on the advent of VAR, and it seems like he is a fan and believes it will make the game better.

But I'm still not convinced. The MLS has actually packaged a series of videos explaining the four situations where VAR will be used: goalspenalty kicks, straight red cards, and cases of mistaken identity. My problem with VAR as it's envisioned is that its scope ends with the play in question, but it expands back in time to encompass everything that led up to the play. In my opinion, this is going to increase the number of fouls in a game because players will start trying to enforce justice by committing blatant and obvious VAR reviews in order to force the review of a perceived error by the referee earlier in the play. 

Let me give you an example from the Penalty Kick video linked above. One of the video segments shows a play in which a red card is awarded because a defender took down an attacking player inside the 18-yard box. VAR starts with that, but backs up the play all the way to the beginning of the attack, and during that sequence, it is shown that an attacking player fouled a defender before the ball entered the penalty area (a foul missed by the ref). This is counted as a "clear and obvious error" by VAR rules, so the ball goes back to that foul by the attacker and the defending team is awarded a free kick.

On the surface that sounds fine--fans screaming that the ref missed the earlier non-call will feel vindicated that the VAR forced them to get it right. But players are smart and they are going to figure this out. When a team falls behind in a match, I predict we are going to see the trailing team start intentionally drawing PKs in cases where they believe an attacker committed a foul earlier in the attacking sequence and they will try to force the review. Yes, that's a gamble, but some teams in desperate situations are going to believe it's a gamble worth taking, and it's going to slow down the game and introduce a lot of extra delays.

Up until this time, VAR and PRO Referee statistics indicate that the process adds fewer than 90 seconds to each match, and reviewable situations take place only 0.36 times every 90 minutes (or about once every three matches). I do not dispute the accuracy of these statistics so far, but I think they are invalid statistics because VAR was not employed to impact the match. You only have one part of the equation in play--that of the way the officiating crew will react to the presence of VAR. You have no real way to predict how clever players or even more clever coaching staffs will attempt to "game the system" and use the rules of the VAR scope of review to try to turn situations to their favor.

There is a familiar limitation on VAR that will be familiar to NFL fans. Just as NFL replay has to be initiated prior to the next snap of the ball, VAR in the MLS has to be completed within a single stoppage of play. When play stops after an event, the VAR official needs to notify the head referee a review is under way and the ref needs to delay play from resuming so the review can be completed. If play stops, but a team manages a quick free kick, throw in, or other restart before the VAR official can notify the head official of the review, then the opportunity is lost and the play can no longer be reviewed.

I'm not saying that VAR is completely a bad idea--I'm just not convinced yet that it's going to make the game appreciably any better. What are your thoughts on VAR? Do you welcome the advent of Big Brother for the referees to look over their shoulder and get another pair of eyes on these important areas of the match? Or do you think this introduces unnecessary complexity into the game? Let me know in the comments below!

OCSC at the Gold Cup Break: Facts, Observations, and Opinions

The MLS season is in a short break for the Gold Cup, so it seems an apt time to look back at the first 20 matches of 2017 and assess how the club is doing compared to the same point in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. There is no doubt that when the season started, the first two months gave Orlando City fans the hope that this might be the year that the club put everything together for a magical season and could make a deep playoff run. But the multi-match weeks in May and June did leave many fans scratching their heads and wondering what the balance of the year will bring.

My crystal ball is no more accurate than any other pundits, but I have run some numbers, collected some facts, and made some observations and have some opinions about how the team will fare the rest of the year. Others will doubtless have different opinions--some more rosy and some more dire than mine. And I encourage and welcome any discussion. But after the last few days of teasing the mid-season recap, I present it all here for your review and assessment.

Just the Facts

  • Above the Line. So far this season, Orlando City has spent every week in playoff contention. This is a big improvement over the first two seasons, and the early season string of wins buyoed by many matches at Orlando City Stadium helped Orlando City to get off to a strong start.
  • New Contributors. Another factor for Orlando City is that Jason Kreis brought in several defensive players that helped to secure wins early when the team seemed to struggle to score goals. With new players like Jonathan Spector and Will Johnson in the lineup, fans have felt confident the team could hold a 1 - 0 lead for the first time in the MLS history of the club.
  • Anemic Offense. However, the offensive output has been lacking. Through 20 MLS matches in 2017, Orlando City has only scored 22 goals, compared to 32 goals scored over 20 matches in 2016 and 26 goals scored over 20 matches in 2015.
  • Improved Defense? Even with the new defensive players, the 2017 campaign has not seen the best defense of the Orlando City MLS era. In 2017 the team has conceded 29 goals, compared to only 26 goals conceded in 2015. But the performance is much better than the 35 goals conceded in 2016 through 20 matches.
  • Depth is an Issue. And the depth of the team is definitely in question. As long as the team was playing one match per week in March and April, they looked very strong, winning 6 of their first 7 matches and shooting to the top of the Table. However, when the MLS scheduling gods saddled Orlando City with 3 matches per week for most of May and June, the team really struggled. Since the beginning of May they have only won 2 of 13 matches, balanced against 6 losses and 5 draws over that period.
  • Key Player Waived. One more troubling issue for Orlando City fans is that the team could not come to terms with Matias Perez-Garcia and has released the player. MPG was one of the most consistently hard-working players on the pitch for Orlando City, and consistently drew free kicks for the team by putting himself in position to take hard fouls from opposing players. The loss of MPG makes an already thin starting line a little thinner unless there is an opportunity to bring someone else onto the club that can assume his salary and role and perform as well or better.
  • Silver Lining. There is a bright side. Even with all the struggles, the good thing for Orlando City fans is that the team is still above the red line in 5th position for the playoffs. This puts them higher than they have been at this point in either of the previous two season. If my calculations are correct, the team was in 8th place and out of the playoffs after 20 matches in 2016, and they were in 6th position and dropping out of the playoffs at this time in the 2015 campaign. The team is also scoring points better than any previous MLS version of the team. In 2015 the team were only managing 1.35 PPM after 20 matches, and in 2016 they were managing only 1.15 PPM after 20 matches.

Orlando City Statistics by Season: After 20 Matches

Year GS GC GD Points PPM East Table
2017 22 29 -7 29 1.45 5th
2016 32 35 -3 23 1.15 8th
2015 26 26 0 27 1.35 6th

For the table above: GC = Goals Scored; GS = Goals Conceded; GD = Goal Differential; PPM = Points per Match

Observations

Depth makes a huge difference in the MLS season. Between the heat and the travel required to play across North America, the addition of midweek matches in the middle of the season means that for a team to win consistently, they need at least 15 - 18 players that can be part of a consistent Starting XI. Teams at the top of the table like Chicago and Toronto are able to drop players in and out of the starting lineup with little change in the results. They are still able to score well and defend well when their usual starters have to have some rest. But Orlando City is not there yet. When we have to rest our usual starters due to midweek matches or little niggling injuries, we do not seem to be able to match the same success. Early on the team managed to win when Kaka was nursing a hamstring injury suffered after 10 minutes of the opening match of the season, but in hindsight that appears to be more an aberration than a pattern, especially when the multi-match weeks began in May.

Orlando City suffers from a rash of players that are "one trick ponies." We need to draft, mold in our academy, or trade for more players that have a bigger range of skill sets. Cyle Larin is a devastating scorer if you put the ball on his feet, his chest, or his head in the 6-yard box. But outside of that he largely appears to be a lost puppy wondering what to do. He is an inconsistent defender and he has trouble finding teammates with passes or even dribbling the ball to help create his own opportunities. Carlos Rivas is a great dribbler and a very sharp passer, but he is extremely inconsistent when it comes to his finishing touch. He is still far more likely to get under the ball and shoot yards above the goal into the stands than he is to be on target when he shoots. And Kaka is really starting to show the miles on his legs. He is still capable of dazzling opponents and fans a few times per match as he dances on the ball or fakes out a defender, but Marta shows far more consistent wow-factor moves on the pitch than Kaka does these days, and she is equally able to create her own shots or find opportunities for teammates, whereas Kaka seems to have lost a step from 2015.


Opinions

I still think this team will make the playoffs, but I don't think they will be in the top half of the playoff contenders. I think 4th - 6th is where we will see the team land after the regular season ends. And that assessment is contingent on no unexpected trades, injuries, or disciplinary issues that drastically impact the lineup over the remaining 14 matches of the season.

I think the team needs to get better talent. We may not need to trade away any stars or fan favorites from the team, but in terms of role players, we need some more depth and we need players who have a broader skill set. As I said it feels like we have too many "one trick ponies" on the team, and we need to have more players who can create chances, distribute the ball, finish chances, defend opponents, and pass to teammates at a high level of skill. Until we do, I don't see us moving much past simply reaching the playoffs.

What are your thoughts on the season so far? Do you think Orlando City is in good shape at this point, or do you worry about what will happen in the balance of the season? Do you think it was a mistake to part company with MPG, or do you believe that the club has an opportunity to sign a player who can help to fill in some of the missing gaps and push the team back toward the top of the playoff bracket before the end of the season? Let me know in the comments below!

Orlando Pride: Midseason Evaluation

Orlando City's MLS and NWSL sides have had very different starts to the season. Both appear to be playing strong football now, and as a fan I am optimistic that both will be able to make the playoffs at the end of this season. In this post I'll start by looking at the Orlando Pride, who have to climb the table several spots to reach playoff contention. In the next post I'll look at Orlando City, who started the season in the playoff race and has remained solidly in contention for the entire season so far.

Orlando Pride Season Review

The first eight matches of the Orlando Pride season can be neatly divided into two groups of four matches, so we'll look at each of those individually.

First Four Matches

In the first four matches, the Pride showed the results of making so many offseason roster moves. The team looked a bit in disarray, struggling to score goals and defend consistently, and the lineup changed nearly every match as Tom Sermanni and his staff tried to find the right combination of players to make an impact. 

Game Opponent GF GA Result/Points
1Portland02Loss / 0
2Washington11Draw / 1
3N Carolina13Loss / 0
4Kansas City11Draw / 1

GF = Goals for Pride; GA = Goals against Pride; links go to boxscore on NWSL web site

Marta joined the club after the season started, and made her first appearance in the home game against Washington, and made her first start against North Carolina the following match. As the team became more accustomed to Marta's presence, they showed signs of improvement. The Pride started dominating possession and creating numerous attacking chances, but they struggled to defend and they struggled even more to finish the chances they were creating. At the end of the first four matches they had managed only two draws and two points on the season, and had fallen to last place in the NWSL table.

Second Four Matches

In the fifth through eighth matches of the season, the Pride began to show signs that they were turning a corner on the season. The team earned results in three of four matches and went 2 - 1 - 1 to earn 7 out of a possible 12 points during that portion of the season. 

Game Opponent GF GA Result/Points
5N Carolina31Win / 3
6Seattle11Draw / 1
7Sky Blue12Loss / 0
8Boston20Win / 3

GF = Goals for Pride; GA = Goals against Pride; links go to boxscore on NWSL web site

Starting with the fifth match of the season, the Pride began putting everything together. Possession and passing became even better, and the team was creating even more attacking chances, even as their defense became stronger and more consistent. There was a scary moment in the Seattle match when goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris went down after a non-contact goal kick with what was identified later as a quad injury that will keep her out for eight weeks. But Caroline Stanley came in to finish the game and preserve the win. Then in the seventh and eighth matches, Aubrey Bledsoe has earned the start. The team stumbled at Sky Blue, giving up a late goal to the home side to lose the match. But the improved team defense and backup keeper earned a clean sheet in the most recent match of the season. 


Current Standings and Projection

The Pride have now climbed to 7th on the table, but they are three spots out of playoff contention and will need to improve to fourth place by the end of the season. The team has only played 8 of 24 league matches, so there is plenty of time, and the team seems to be gaining more confidence on offense and more consistency on defense match after match.

I think the team are in a strong spot now, and I look for them to have a reversal of the performance from last season. At the beginning of 2016 the Pride raced out to a strong start, but when International tournaments and the Summer Olympics disrupted the team chemistry, they fell apart and never recovered in terms of being able to have a consistent performance. This season I think will be the opposite. The team started slow and struggled to begin the season, but now their on-pitch chemistry seems stronger, and as they look to add Alex Morgan to the squad when she recovers from the hamstring injury received at the end of the European season, that will add even more scoring power to the squad. At this time I am confident the team will make the playoffs, but I will need to wait until at least the halfway point if not the 16-match point to say if I think they can contend for the Supporters Shield. Right now I think they will probably slot into the lower bracket of the playoffs, either in the 3rd or 4th position by the end of the season. To do that, they will need to continue earning results in at least three out of every four matches, and they will need to continue to have those results be wins more than draws.

What are your thoughts on the season? Does the team look like one that could contend for a playoff spot, or do you still want to see more matches before you make a prediction? Let me know in the comments below!

The Protected Eleven: Ken's Opinion

This year there will be an MLS expansion draft for Atlanta and Minnesota in mid-December. One of the provisions of this draft is that each extant MLS club can name eleven protected players that are not able to be selected by the two expansion teams. 

Toward the end of the season I discussed with a couple of other social media types about each of us putting together a list of who we thought Jason Kreis might put on his "protected" list. I have heard back from my friend Luis, and I have posted his list in another post. In this one I will publish my own speculation as to the names that the coach will put on his list. In the table below I post a photo of each player along with a few facts about the player's time with Orlando City and some reasons I could be right or wrong about each player.

ImageComments
Kaká
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 24; Starts - 23; Goals - 9; Assists - 10
  • Why he's a keeper: He is the captain and even with the success of some younger players like Cyle Larin, Kaka is still the main star power attraction for the club. He is a leader on the pitch, on the training field, and in the clubhouse, who inspires his teammates and helps them be better players. He also seems to be a personal favorite of majority investor and owner Flavio da Silva, who is also from Brazil.
  • Why I could be wrong: The move to Orlando was not personally easy for Kaka. It has been a factor in the dissolution of his marriage and it means that he is living in a different country from his children. He also missed several matches in both 2015 and 2016 with injuries, and at some point the enjoyment he gets from the game will cross a line with the pain it causes him and he'll decide it's no longer worth the latter to gain the former.
Cyle Larin
  • Role: Forward
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 32; Starts - 29; Goals - 14; Assists - 3
  • Why he's a keeper:Larin has been the leading scorer for Orlando City in both of his two MLS seasons with the club. He can be a dynamic scorer and has the ability to score multiple times every game. And when he keeps moving without the ball, he can find ways to get open and in position to make one-touch strikes on goal that are hard for any keeper to stop. There's always talk about Larin having interest from Eurpopean clubs. If that is true, then it is more financially beneficial for Orlando City to wait until after the end of the current European season to sell his rights overseas: because of his status as a Generation Adidas player, the club will get a higher share of any money that is generated from selling Larin's rights to a team in another league.
  • Why I could be wrong:Larin can be a streaky player, and that mainly has to do with his gameday attitude. If he comes out focused and intent on staying in the game on and off the ball, he can be amazing. However, if he starts getting lost in thought off the ball or stands around watching the game when the ball is not on his feet, he can look just awful. And it seems that when he gets in a funk it sometimes compounds by taking him more out of the game. Jason Kreis may not put up with that kind of intermittent focus, and may think the team is better off without a player that is extremely talented but not 100% focused every minute he is on the pitch.
Carlos Rivas
  • Role: Forward
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 21; Starts - 8; Goals - 3; Assists - 4
  • Why he's a keeper:Rivas played dramatically better in 2016 than 2015, but he did not get into as many games or play as many minutes as I would have liked. Between his first MLS and second MLS season with Orlando City, Rivas developed a much better habit of reading the pitch and deciding when it was better to shoot or to pass. He seemed so eager to shoot in 2015 that he often took wildly ill-advised strikes that went way too high or too wide to ever have a chance. In 2016 he took much better shots, and he proved himself to be a very accurate mid- to long-range passer, and could put the ball on the feet of an open teammate with a great chance to score. He also possesses blazing speed.
  • Why I could be wrong:At this point I still think Rivas has more potential than he has shown. It depends on the mix of devlopment with long-term investment in young players and the immediate needs to win that Jason Kreis has in mind for building the team going forward. Rivas would be a tempting acquisition for an expansion team, as he looks like he is on the verge of having a breakout season. If Kreis believes he could get someone with a little more experience and a little more proven scoring ability, he might decide to leave Rivas unprotected.
Tommy Redding
  • Role: Defender
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 18; Starts - 16; Goals - 0; Assists - 0
  • Why he's a keeper:He is one of the two best defenders on the team. Period. Yes he is young, and yes that means he makes youthful mistakes by being fooled into falling for the wrong feint by experienced attackers, but he has amazing closing speed and plays his heart out every match. Often he was assigned to mark the speediest and most dangerous striker on any opposing team, and Redding often prevented that player from getting any good shots on goals for the whole match. Defense is our weakest area, and so we need to have players with a lot of raw talent as well as great experience back there.
  • Why I could be wrong:He is young. It's similar to the argument I made with Rivas. Depending on who is on the market that Jason Kreis believes he could bring to Orlando, it's possible that he might leave Redding unprotected, because he would be a great young player for an expansion team to add to their roster.
Rafael Ramos
  • Role: Defender
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 12; Starts - 12; Goals - 0; Assists - 3
  • Why he's a keeper:Along with Redding, he is the other best defender on the team, and he has a bit more experience to help mentor a younger player like Tommy. He's a speedy player and he is a good passer to boot, and can steal the ball and start counter-attacks that can lead to an Orlando City goal.
  • Why I could be wrong:Ramos is a great defender, but he is young, and still has more skill to develop to go along with his natural athletic talent. If Jason Kreis wants a top defense in 2017, he might be willing to go after more seasoned players in trades or free agency and allow an expansion team to take a dynamic young player. I don't much buy that, but it could happen.
Antonio Nocerino
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC: 1
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 21; Starts - 19; Goals - 0; Assists - 0
  • Why he's a keeper:Nocerino was one of several players that Jason Kreis named during the second half of the season who really seemed to "buy in" and "be excited" about the new direction that the coach wants to take the club. He also played his best soccer of the year after Kreis arrived. This could be due to simply more time acclimating to the Orlando weather and his OCSC teammates, or it could be that some subtle change in the position or way Jason Kreis wants to use Nocerino allowed him to use his talent more effectively than he was able to display under Adrian Heath. He proved to be a very effective "safety valve" for the defense, and displayed great vision all season in terms of being able to see where the ball could be placed to help the team build up an attack.
  • Why I could be wrong:Nocerino did not have the kind of immediate impact that fans and coaches were hoping we would see from him in 2016. I have a feeling that he was brought here more because Flavio wanted him than the coaches or soccer operations people wanted him here, and if the calculus of the front office thinking changed during the season with the hiring of Jason Kreis, then it's very possible that the same people who thought they wanted Nocerino here during last offseason may not be feeling the same way now.
Servando Carrasco
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 31; Starts - 21; Goals - 0; Assists - 2
  • Why he's a keeper:Carrasco is one of the players who leaves everything on the pitch. In some ways I feel like he is a player in the mold of the NFL's Wes Welker. Carrasco is not the fastest defender on the roster and he doesn't always reach the ball to make the play, but he never leaves anything on the pitch. He gives full effort in going for every slide tackle, every block, and trying to close down every opportunity the other team has to attack. Also, along with Nocerino, Jason Kreis named Carrasco as one of the players who really was buying into his vision and helping other players buy into his vision for the team.
  • Why I could be wrong:For all his efforts, one look at Servando's twitter feed is all you need to know. He fully embraces the fact that many people know him as Alex Morgan's husband, and I believe that now that the couple have had a chance to live and play in the same city, I don't think they will be eager to play in other places again. There have been a lot of rumors this offseason connecting Alex Morgan to French side Lyon, and if they offer her enough money (and offer Servando an opportunity to play on the men's team), then they could both be gone from our city.
Joe Bendik
  • Role: Goalkeeper
  • Seasons with OCSC: 1
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 34; Starts - 34; Clean Sheets - 5; Saves - 114
  • Why he's a keeper:He ended the regular season with the most saves in MLS. He also made some amazing plays during the season, including winning the MLS Save of the Year. His peers on the club also voted him team MVP at the annual awards gala last month, so it's clear he is beloved in the locker room as well as in the stands.
  • Why I could be wrong:I really don't think I am, but there could be something that Jason Kreis has seen in practice that makes him think we might be better off keeping Earl Edwards, Jr. (who has always performed well when we have had a chance to see him) and let Bendik go. In any case, I think both keepers are capable of being MLS starters, so I think one will be left unprotected in case one of the expansion teams would like to build around a solid goalkeeper.
Matías Pérez García
  • Role: Forward
  • Seasons with OCSC: 1
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 13; Starts - 10; Goals - 0; Assists - 2
  • Why he's a keeper:MPG, as he is known, was by far the most effective acquisition the team made during the season. I was sad to see Darwin Ceren leave the club, but he did not have a great season, and apparently he did not fit into the plans that Jason Kreis has for the club going forward. MPG's speed and skill have been great for the club. He's also a fantastic passer and has great instincts to dispossess opponents of the ball as well.
  • Why I could be wrong:I really don't think I'm wrong on MPG either, but it's possible that as an international player he could have some sort of pressure from family back home, like the situation that caused Adrian Winter to leave the club early in the season and return to Switzerland. Beyond that, I think that as someone who contributed a lot to the team after Kreis came in, I don't think he's likely to be left unprotected.
Cristian Higuita
  • Role: Midfielder
  • Seasons with OCSC:
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 21; Starts - 16; Goals - 1; Assists - 1
  • Why he's a keeper:Higuita could be considered the emotional spark plug of the team. He is also a very good holding midfielder, with a passer's skill and a defender's talent. I think he may be the player who displays the most raw passion of anyone on the roster. He was very frustrating to watch last season and early this season because he seemed to pick up at least one yellow card every other match he played on the pitch. But I noticed that he seemed to quickly figure out where the line was and stay on the legal side of it after the first time he was suspended in the Jason Kreis era. I have a feeling that it wasn't any kind of threat or negative reinforcement that the new coaches gave him, but they may have helped him figure out how to more positively channel the impulse and energy that makes him want to react poorly.
  • Why I could be wrong:Like so many others on the roster, Higuita is young. He's talented, but he still probably has more potential than production at this point and it's possible the club will want to open a roster spot to bring in a player with more experience.
Brek Shea
  • Role: Midfielder / Defender
  • Seasons with OCSC: 2
  • 2016 Stats: Appearances - 27; Starts - 22; Goals - 3; Assists - 2
  • Why he's a keeper:Shea is a fan favorite and he shows flashes of brilliance. He is capable of making lovely long-range shots and has the speed of a gazelle that lets him play the entire length of the pitch. Shea can also make great passes from deep into the attacking area, and he is not a selfish player--he will shoot when he is the best option, but he seems to want to find a teammate with a better shot on goal before trying for glory for himself.
  • Why I could be wrong:Shea did not have a chance to play much after Kreis arrived due to injury, and he has missed portions of both of the last two seasons with injury issues. The coach may decide he's a bit too injury-prone to warrant his relatively high salary and may choose to allow him to be unprotected for one of the expansion sides.

What about you? Who do you think Jason Kreis will protect in the expansion draft? And do you think my reasons for keeping or potentially losing any of these players is incorrect? Let me know in the comments below!