Orlando City have a new manager, and despite speculation that owner Flavio Augusto da Silva would push the Lions towards an international boss, they've instead gone with one of the top Americans around: Jason Kreis.
It was just 18 months ago that Kreis was considered the best young manager in MLS and one of the best period. He had an MLS Cup under his belt, having turned Real Salt Lake into one of the strongest clubs in the league, and was making the move to New York City FC, finally giving him the resources to compete with the top teams. The question wasn't so much if he would succeed in New York, but how long it would take him and when he would make the jump to United States national team boss. His star was that bright.
Fast forward to now and Kreis has been unemployed for months. His NYCFC team didn't make the playoffs and they cut him loose. Yet, his star didn't dim much. Everyone chalked up his failure to issues with NYCFC's ownership group, being an expansion team and a weak roster. He was going to have his pick of teams to take over, with a move to the floundering Seattle Sounders being the most popular speculation.
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Instead, it's Orlando, and the hire has been almost universally praised already. After all, Kreis is still considered one of the best around, he has experience in MLS and he has never shied away from high expectations, which fits a club that has made no secret of its belief that it should be among the best in the league soon. But the question is whether the hire helps Orlando get there.
Kreis takes over a roster with a fair amount of talent and, while there may be flaws, there's no doubt that they're good enough to be a playoff team in the weak Eastern Conference. They are only a point out of a postseason spot and the Lions even have the personnel to fit the diamond midfield Kreis preferred at RSL, so the transition should be seamless. Even if Kreis changes things up -- and he's shown plenty of tactical flexibility before -- it's hard to imagine Orlando not being better with him at the helm.
Kreis won't be expected to merely get Orlando in the playoffs this season, though. The Lions are aiming much higher and there are very real questions about whether they can get there, even with Kreis.
Orlando isn't exactly free of the same drama that surrounded Kreis at NYCFC. Several of their top executives have departed the club, including their chief operating officer and chief financial officer, and the soccer side of things doesn't look to have much of a direction. They hired Armando Carnerio to be their chief soccer officer in November, only his responsibilities overlapped with general manager Paul McDonough's. Then McDonough left the team, only for Carneiro to do the same less than two months after he was hired and the Lions have been without a GM or anyone in a similar role in the eight months since.
That's a lot of turnover for a club that isn't even two years old yet. If a lack of direction, unclear leadership and a constantly changing approach were responsible for Kreis' struggles at NYCFC, as many of Kreis' supporters believe, then Orlando doesn't look entirely dissimilar. They're a team that has just an assistant general manager, with President Phil Rawlins now into his eighth month as the temporary head of soccer operations.
A potential solution is to put Kreis in charge of constructing the roster, to go along with his coaching duties, but Orlando City's announcement of Kreis' hiring doesn't indicate that will be the case and, even if they will go down that route, there's no track record of Kreis doing so successfully. When he thrived at RSL, it was with one of the league's best general managers, Garth Lagerwey, running the show.
What will Kreis' team look like? Who will construct that team? What are the long and short-term expectations? Will the club stick to a set approach?Those are all questions without answers. And Kreis isn't the answer to all of them.
Kreis is a good manager. How good depends on what you think of the situation in New York and how much blame he should take in their spotty season, but there's a reason that so many thought so highly of him just 18 months ago. From that perspective, Orlando's hire of Kreis is a good move. The Lions undoubtedly got better at manager. But a good hire doesn't put the Lions on the path to success.
Orlando have a lot of problems. Kreis fixes at least one of them, and maybe several of them. But he doesn't fix them all and he may not fix enough to even stay with the Lions long-term. After all, this isn't a club that has been noted for stability and if there's anything that their first season and a half has taught us about Orlando, it's that we have no idea what will happen next. Not even Kreis.
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