It was one year ago that Jason Kreis was brought in as the new head coach for Orlando City. He would be just the second head coach in the team’s young history and he wore the face of a rival as he started the 2015 season as the head coach of the other expansion side, New York City FC. Were the Lions ready to embrace change?
From the moment he took over, Kreis started to leave his mark on Orlando City. The focus of the game shifted from a high-scoring attack to a well-thought defense. Defense and togetherness became the most important messages from Kreis-- messages that continue to this day. These words would be the definition of a successful preseason, where Kreis sought to create a team that would do anything for each other and wanted to defend their new home.
In the offseason, he showed that those words had meaning to him. He brought in new players to help fulfill his message-- players like Canadian international Will Johnson, U.S international Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, and Donny Toia. He brought in defenders that he knew could perform.
In the preseason, the team started with a trip to Jacksonville. New and old players alike became friends. The team lived soccer for the length of the trip. When they got home, they felt more comfortable around each other and they were ready to get to work.
The Lions came out of the gate at full strength. They earned five wins in a row at home, becoming the most successful team to open an MLS stadium in the league’s history. For a few weeks, they sat the top of MLS. Even as the schedule became tighter and the road trips became longer, the Lions continued their success and stayed above the playoff line.
As the Lions head into the second half of this season, they can look back on a year with Kreis and say it has brought success. The Lions have a new identity-- one about strength, about togetherness, about playing as a unit. That mentality, adopted by the players and the coaching staff alike, has been the defining factor of Kreis’ time with Orlando.