Orlando City fired head coach Jason Kreis during the World Cup break last month, and after a couple games with interim man Bobby Murphy in charge, Saturday’s game will be the debut for new Orlando City boss James O’Connor.
O’Connor, 38, steps into his first MLS head coaching job under considerable pressure, with an Orlando team that has yet to make the MLS Cup Playoffs in its history, and riding a current eight-game losing streak in league play. The roster was overhauled in the offseason by Kreis and the front office, and while the potential remains for them to spring to life and really make a run in the second half of the season, they’re in a bad way right now.
All of this is to say, from LAFC’s perspective, be wary of the new manager bounce.
What is the new manager bounce? Basically, the instant boost that teams often get when they get a new coach. Sometimes having a new face and getting some new ideas will lift a team that’s been horrible to something much more competent, even good. And that’s a definite possibility with O’Connor and Orlando City.
O’Connor is from Ireland, played professionally in England, before moving to Orlando City as a player in the team’s USL days in 2012. Playing for the Lions until 2014, he won the USL league title in 2013, alongside one of his new players, forward Dom Dwyer.
After retiring as a player, O’Connor moved to coaching, and after learning the ropes as an assistant as his playing career wound down, took the job at USL expansion side Louisville City FC in 2015, he lead the Kentucky side until getting the Orlando City job in recent weeks.
At Louisville City, his team seemed to improve year over year, culminating in a USL league title last season. At Louisville, a key player was Mark-Anthony Kaye, who was since sold to LAFC. Kaye gave considerable credit to O’Connor for propelling his career forward this week.
“You can say that he helped revitalize my career. I came to him in kind of a desperate situation to learn the game better and become a better player. I owe him a lot,” Kaye said in a story on LAFC’s website.
O’Connor has been seen as a rising star in North American coaching for the job he’s done at Louisville City, but now the real work begins. Officially, he’s had this week to train with his new team, and while that gives him some time to implement his ideas, expect him to focus on a couple simple principles against LAFC. Basics in defense. Adjusting players’ positioning or putting them in a preferred formation for the first time.
It’s still possible LAFC could overrun a team that again, is on an eight-game losing streak in league play, and O’Connor will get a dose of reality. No one expects Bob Bradley will walk into Banc of California Stadium thinking his team has three points in the bag. They’ll be prepared and will no doubt have considered the ways in which this brand-new Orlando City side will attempt to fix what ails them.
But LAFC have a tricky new assignment on Saturday, recent results be damned. They will need to keep getting results, lest they fall victim to the new manager bounce.
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