Orlando City made the announcement that many were half-expecting something on Monday, announcing the club has agreed to part ways with head coach James O’Connor after one and a half seasons with the club. The move came less than 24 hours after Orlando’s 5-2 loss at home to the Chicago Fire to end the 2019 season.
The decision, according to reports, was made before the team even took the field on Sunday. EVP of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi had already decided to move on from O’Connor and made it official after going to his bosses on Monday morning to get approval for the firing.
In a sit-down interview with FOX35, Muzzi made clear two things regarding his decision to make a change now: Orlando City had a roster good enough to make the playoffs this season and should have, and Muzzi wants to bring in his own coach for the team.
The stats are hard to argue against:
* O’Connor leaves Orlando with a record of 11-27-13, leading the Lions to a second-consecutive 11th place finish in the Eastern Conference
* The club never won back-to-back games at any point under O’Connor (only team in Major League Soccer this season to do that)
* Winless in eight straight matches to end the season, effectively falling out of the playoff race (their last victory came on August 14, the longest winless drought in the league to end the season)
On the flip side of that, however, O’Connor inherited a team last season that was in the middle of the miserable losing skid and would go on to finish with the most goals allowed in MLS history. In 2019, the Lions made a nine-point improvement in the standings and corrected much of their defensive woes, finishing 22 goals against better than in 2018 while also setting a club record for fewest goals conceded in a season (52).
At the end of the day, Orlando was set-up in a position to compete for a playoff spot and could probably still be alive and gearing up for their first-round opponent had they not spiraled out over the last 7-8 weeks. At the same time, being in that position alone is much more than most had seen coming for the Lions in 2019, with most — if not all — believing the squad wasn’t good enough to be one of the top seven sides in the East.
Ultimately, Muzzi wanted to bring in his coach, someone who is more “aligned with the vision and goals” of the club.
“[James] was already here when I got in. I think I could have come in and just made a change when I came in and from everything that I learned and what I talked to him I felt that he deserved a chance,” Muzzi said in that FOX35 interview.
“At the end of the day, at this point, I need somebody who is more in line with what I think, with what the club thinks and our goals,” he added.
Based on what he’s said to the media so far, finding his coach seemed to be a top priority from day one when he was brought in to lead the soccer side of the club last winter, but decided to gives O’Connor a fair shot to win him over. That didn’t happen with the results, and now the time has come to fully put his name on the rebuilding process and complete it by hiring a new coach.
As far as concerns with instability and continuity within the club after firing its third coach in four seasons, Muzzi brushed it aside and alluded to O’Connor not being the coach he saw taking the club to the next level.
“At the end of the day, it’s not only continuity, if I’m coaching or you’re coaching, you can’t be coaching for 10 years and I don’t think you’re going to win a title… I think that at the end of the day, I think we’ve got to think about how we’re going to win a title and at this point, I think that it was the best decision for the club.”
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