For Jason Kreis, there’s something special about the upcoming season.
A new year, a new stadium and the chance to make history as the club makes it ultimate push of clinching the playoffs for the very first time.
Through the grind of it all, an identity is formed.
In a way, it’s deja vu for Kreis. A new vision running parallel to his days at Real Salt Lake.
“From coaching at a football stadium on an artificial surface last year kind of brought me back to the early days of Real Salt Lake,” Kreis told reporters after the team’s first training of the year on Monday. “It’s about establishing an identity of who Orlando City wants to be. Those are the sorts of things that you get when you ask your players to work extremely hard in the offseason, and those are the things you get when we work together collectively in the preseason.”
Kreis coached RSL from 2007-2013, guiding them to an MLS Cup trophy in 2009 before losing in the 2013 final against Sporting Kansas City in penalty kicks.
Kreis would end up leaving RSL after the 2013 MLS Cup run to join expansion side New York City FC. The overall report during his time at RSL, however, was bold and impressive.
While Orlando City is set to open its own stadium later this year, the former MLS player was part of the coaching staff that opened Real Salt Lake’s stadium Rio Tinto Stadium in 2008. That year developed and formed RSL’s identity especially after the Western Conference club boosted an 8-1-6 home record to open the stadium.
The RioT as it’s often called soon became a difficult place for visiting teams in the years to come under Kreis.
But the current task at hand doesn’t look easy though. In an environment where a league is growing, and the competition is surely rising, replicating the success Kreis accomplished at RSL will have its own share of obstacles.
“It’s about looking at the team and trying to identify strengths and weaknesses… and trying to establish what we think is a core group of players to build around,” added Kreis. “We’re doing a lot of the same things that we did in those early years in Salt Lake. We believe, as it was there, the opening of the stadium and playing on a real grass field can be a game changer for us.”
But even after a tumultuous 2016 season for Orlando, there’s optimism for what’s to come.
“I believe we’re going to be a fitter, stronger and a more tactically complete team,” Kreis continued.
The Lions posted a 9-11-14 record and finished with 41 points to claim the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference during the 2016 season. The result through it all resulted into Adrian Heath getting ousted as head coach last summer, and Kreis inheriting a depleted team shortly after being announced the club’s new manager.
While there are many returning faces for the Lions this preseason, the club’s general mindset has to start all over, according to Kreis.
“We’ll start over… I don’t think that you can be off the amount of time we’ve been off, which is several months, and really pick off where we last left off,” said Kreis. “So we’ll have some reviews of what we’re looking for as well as the training sessions on how we address those tactically, so we all have a very clear idea of what we’re attempting to do.”
While the primary focus is on making Orlando City Stadium a difficult ground for visiting opponents, it’s up to the players to protect the homestand.
“We shouldn’t lose any homes games there,” said forward Cyle Larin. “It’s a nice stadium, and the fans deserve it, we deserve to play there, and I think it will be a great atmosphere.”
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