Orlando City has decided to part ways with head coach James O’Connor, the club announced Monday morning.
The news comes less than 24 hours after the Lions wrapped the 2019 campaign with a 5-2 loss to the Chicago Fire at Exploria Stadium, one last stamp on the fifth consecutive season without reaching the playoffs in Major League Soccer.
“On behalf of Orlando City, we want to thank James for all of his efforts during his coaching tenure at Orlando,” Orlando City EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi said. “We wish James the best of luck in the next phase of his coaching career.”
Orlando City hired O’Connor away from Louisville City in June of 2018, after firing then-head coach Jason Kreis; he would guide the Lions to a 2-12-3 record through the end of the season and a last-place finish in the Eastern Conference. After spending the offseason re-working the roster, alongside newly hired Executive VP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi, the Lions came into 2019 with the hope of pushing for a playoff spot. However, they once again came up short as the club went winless through its final eight games, finishing the year 0-4-4 — the longest active winless streak in MLS to end the season.
The Lions were able to lay down a strong foundation and remarkably quick defensive turnaround, setting a club record for the fewest goals allowed in a season (52) just one year after setting the league record for most goals allowed (74). Despite all of that, the Lions once again finished 11th in the Eastern Conference, 22nd overall in the league, on 37 points — Orlando’s 2nd-worst season in MLS.
Orlando City’s two biggest problems boiled down to their inability to put the ball in the back of the net, finishing with the 5th lowest goals for total in the league, and getting results at home — only FC Cincinnati lost more home games than Orlando this season, as the Lions finished the season 6-8-3 at Exploria Stadium. The Lions were also the only team in the league that failed to win back-to-back games at any point in the season — something they haven’t done at any point in O’Connor’s tenure as head coach.
The Lions, now under Muzzi’s direction, will be heading into their 6th season in MLS with their fourth head coach, starting over yet again as the club looks for stability. Adrian Heath, who coached the Lions throughout its USL history before being fired midway through the 2016 season, led Minnesota United to its first playoff berth this season in his third year with the club, while Kreis currently holds a technical staff position with Inter Miami FC and is the head coach of the United States U-23 National Team.
After Orlando’s loss to Chicago, O’Connor was asked about his future with the club and if there had been any talks so far about his contract, which is reportedly up after 2020. He had this to say:
“There’s been no talks around [a contract extension]. I think the focus has been around trying to push and get into the playoffs. I think this is the first year where we’ve been able to stay in the race for the playoffs as long as we have [false]. I think the focus has been trying to get over that line and, from our point of view, it was great that we were able to get in the mix for as long as we could. I think everyone can see we’ve put a strong foundation in place to spring forward next year.”
Now the search for a new coach begins.
For more soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @osjsoccer