A month and a half into the offseason we finally have a clear picture of the work ahead for Orlando City this winter after the club announced it would only pick up the contract options for five players — defenders Kamal Miller and Kyle Smith, along with forwards Tesho Akindele, Chris Mueller and Santiago Patiño. A day later, the Lions announced an agreement to bring back Ruan on a permanent transfer and two-year contract, bringing the total number of players under contract for 2020 to 16.
While still without a coach (although reports suggest they could be closing in on their guy), the Lions can begin moving on yet another rebuild after missing the playoffs once again and firing James O’Connor after the season finale in October.
Roughly three months shy of the 2020 season-opening some time at the end of February, here are some thoughts on the roster moves and the season ahead.
1. — Last week’s roster moves cleared just under $5 million in totally salary off the books for the Lions heading into the winter and regardless of what changes come with the next CBA (as of now, nobody really knows what to expect the roster rules and budget to look like starting next season), it gives Luiz Muzzi and his staff a lot of room to work in re-shaping the roster, and especially strengthening the bottom half of the roster, a big weak spot for the Lions this past season.
2. — Of the 16 players currently returning, most of them include last season’s starting lineup — Dom Dwyer, Nani, Tesho Akindele, Chris Mueller, Ruan, Joao Moutinho, Robin Jansson, Sebastian Mendez, Mauricio Pereyra, and Brian Rowe. Everybody knows the focus heading into the winter should and would be on adding more attacking talent to the midfield, which means the Lions won’t have to focus so much on bulking the starting lineup, and can spend a larger chunk of those available resources on the bottom half of the roster, a crucial piece to dealing with everything that a grinding six-month season brings — Open Cup, mid-week games, Florida summers, etc.
3. — Cam Lindley‘s name caught the eye of a lot of fans when his name was among those with options not picked up, but it’s not hard to understand why that might have been the case. Yes, Lindley is a guy on a Homegrown contract with a good amount of potential, but he was brought in during the Jason Kreis era and clearly never fit into the plans with O’Connor after spending the entire 2019 season on loan with Memphis 901 in the USL Championship. I haven’t seen enough of the kid play to say whether or not Orlando is making a huge mistake moving on with him for nothing, but then again it does come across as a bit surprising that someone like Muzzi, who has preached youth development since Day 1, would make the decision to move on from a Homegrown Player (even if he’s not actually an Orlando City homegrown).
4. — We don’t have to agree that Orlando City’s 2019 roster was good enough to make the playoffs, as Muzzi claimed in the aftermath of firing O’Connor (I certainly don’t think it was, otherwise why is half of the roster not returning?), but it was close enough to be one that it makes this offseason crucial to identifying and bringing in the right players to push the Lions over the line in what is sure to be a tough playoff race in the Eastern Conference next season. With a ton of cap space and roster spots open, this is Muzzi’s chance to catapult Orlando into the playoff conversation in 2020.
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