ORLANDO, Fla. – Jason Kreis says he’s stayed closely in touch with the MLS action, despite being out of the league for eight months before taking over at Orlando City SC.
That will be put to the test on Sunday, when Kreis coaches his first league outing since last October with New York City FC when his Lions take on the visiting New England Revolution in a crucial early test for his time in Florida (7:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).
The new head coach has been in place for little more than a week, with just a 2-1 friendly defeat against Stoke City to show for his time with the team to date. But he is looking for an immediate payoff against the Revs.
“I made a point of trying to stay very connected to [the league], watching as many games as I could, and being prepared, because it was always my objective to get back into coaching as quickly as possible,” said Kreis.
“We’ve taken a long, hard look at New England. We know they have some very creative attacking players. [Kei] Kamara is extremely dangerous in the box. Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, [Diego] Fagundez and [Teal] Bunbury: These are all extremely gifted players, and we need to be prepared for them. But, truthfully, the focus will be 80 percent about us, making sure all the things we do are right, and 20 percent worrying about New England.”
Kreis admits he has been pleasantly surprised by the positive attitude within the squad, even though Orlando have chalked up just one win in their last nine league outings, exited the US Open Cup to an NASL team and lost longtime head coach Adrian Heath.
“[The spirit] is fantastic. I couldn’t be more happy with the guys,” Kreis confirmed. “They look to be together right now, which is surprising because, when you go through all the difficult results they’ve had in the past six months or so, you would expect the group would be pretty fragmented.
“But they are quite together and I attribute it to the great work [stand-in head coach] Bobby Murphy has done in the interim. I think he has done a lot of things to bring the group together and it has shown up from the very first day in training. The spirit has been great, the intensity of their work rate has been great, I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The one thing Kreis hasn’t had any real chance to do, though, is work in training with skipper Kaká and striker Cyle Larin, both of whom have been away all week for the All-Star Game. the Lions boss admits both players will need careful evaluating before the Revs game.
“I would say with me to expect the unexpected,” said Kreis. “We’ll make those decisions after we’ve had the chance to speak to Cyle and Kaká. We’ll have a really hard thought process in the coaches’ locker room about what we need to do.”
Starting with a home game is also a bonus for Kreis, as he gets to walk out in front of the raucous Camping World Stadium crowd as the home coach instead of the visiting one. He vividly remembers his two visits with New York in 2015 – including the two expansion teams’ MLS debut on opening day last year, when 62,510 were in attendance to “Fill The Bowl” for the special occasion.
“It was a major contributing factor in the decision to come here, the fact that the crowds here are so fantastic and so rowdy,” he explained. “To be on the other end of that as an opposing coach, you remember those things, about the places you go where it is really rowdy, and I want to be a part of that, part of that community that celebrates this team.”
Veteran Brazilian attacker Julio Baptista said it’s important that the Lions’ experienced hands help the younger players adapt to their new coach – but also emphasized that Sunday is being approached as a must-win affair.
“It is super-important for us to go into the stadium on Sunday and try to secure a win,” he said via the team’s translator. “I know the last couple of matches at home we’ve tied or just haven’t gotten those three points, so that’s definitely at the top of our minds.”