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SPECIAL REPORT (P2): Orlando City - the preparations and personnel

In a three-part series, tribalfootball.com is embedded inside MLS expansion club Orlando City, gaining exclusive access to the franchise's powerbrokers as they prepare to shake up US soccer in 2015.

  One of the most important parts of building a successful sporting organisation is recruiting the type of personnel that perfectly fits your ethos, yearns to achieve the same goals and holds a similar general philosophy.

The character of these people often defines a club, particularly when considering the playing group, who ultimately create the culture and leave a legacy.

Often we see clubs, whether it be professional or amateur, stuck in a rut of mediocrity mainly due to the generation before who did not work hard or smart enough to create something positive for the future.

When pondering Orlando City Soccer Club you can only begin to imagine what the forthcoming years hold after the unbridled success they have achieved in their short history thus far.

Head coach Adrian Heath and founder/president Phil Rawlins have helped shape a well-rounded outfit who are already intent on continuing the remarkable feats of their formative years.

Since being rebranded as Orlando City in 2011, following the move from Austin, the Lions have won three USL PRO regular season titles as well as two Championships. That has included a franchise-low finish of second and their worst result which was a quarter-final finish in the play-offs in 2014.

It has been a long and tiresome process but OCSC are now at the stage where they can finally test their wares against the best in the USA and Canada, whether it be from a playing perspective, or pitting their brand, supporter base and facilities against their soon-to-be rivals.

Coach Heath says the transition from US Soccer's third division to the top flight has been fairly smooth and indicated that the work done prior sets the scene for what will expectantly be a prosperous debut MLS campaign.

He also knows that he must leave behind a strong legacy when the time eventually comes to depart his role.

"We've moved to a new building, we've got a new training facility now which is great. We've beautiful fields to train on, which is all part of growing a club," Heath told tribalfootball.com.

"People forget that it's more than just playing on a Saturday. You are trying to grow something. I'm not naïve enough to know that I'm going to be here forever.

"This club is going to be here long after I'm gone and long after these players but what we try and do is provide the foundation to build everything on so the next people, the next incumbents to this job, there's something there for them to actually build on further.

"We haven't taken any shortcuts, we've tried to do it step-by-step. If there is one thing that the owner Phil did incredibly well is that he had his plan, he had his map. He had his road map of 'this is what we are going to do to get to MLS'.

"And it couldn't have worked any better. It was like turning the page over, then the next one, and ticking it off. He didn't deviate once off the path and just kept going and one by one they (the goals) went down.

"The introduction of (majority owner) Flavio (Augusto da Silva) at that particular time, with the financial boost for that board, was over the edge with everything we had done. And then you are coming up with that financial clout and suddenly it's a pretty impressive force all moving in the same direction."

One of the more determined and most recognised moves by the club was to go after Brazilian great Kaka.

Some may see the pursuit of a World Cup and Ballon d'Or winner, by an American third tier club, as a ridiculously ambitious recreation but Orlando City were unwavering as they went about building their inaugural squad.

The influence of da Silva played a major role in the luring of Kaka to Central Florida, which Heath admits, but he recalls just how much the former Real Madrid, AC Milan and Sao Paulo superstar wanted to come and make a splash in the US.

"The most important thing is, the most important thing he gave us was credibility. And the other thing that he gave us was that we were suddenly news," added the Lions head coach.

"I remember the day after he signed (in June last year), we had stuff all over the internet from China, from Japan, from all over the world. From one day half the world not knowing who we are, to the day after everybody knows who you are.

"I had friends ringing me from England saying, 'you've signed Kaka? That's enormous'. So that's what he gave us.

"Suddenly we became relevant. The fact that he is here, and he signed when he did, I think it has given us a little bit of time to try and build around him.

"What we expect of him is leadership, obviously his ability. The last year he has been pretty injury-free, he did really well (on loan) at Sao Paulo. They finished in the Copa Libertadores which was the aim when he went back there.

"His last year at Milan he was excellent."

The personnel scenario of the club then springs to mind. Kaka is somebody who meets the demands, attitude and overall beliefs of the organisation which Heath was quick to highlight.

"We know we are getting an outstanding footballer but more importantly, something that we've always tried to do at the club, is we think we have a great role model for our younger players," he added of the 32-year old attacking midfielder.

"He's an ambassador and just a really good guy.

"We are getting a great representative of the public."

President Rawlins wholeheartedly concurs. He feels Kaka, or Ricky as he is affectionately known, has the ability as both a footballer as part of a larger collective and as an individual with a huge following to deliver everything expected of him.

"He's been huge for us," added Rawlins who is glowing in his appraisal of the Champions League winner.

"He is such an international star. He's not just huge in Brazil, he is huge everywhere. His time in Italy, his time in Spain, the fact he has played in three World Cups, he has captained the national team. His profile is massive.

"Then you build into that his social media profile and he is pushing 33 million Facebook followers and has over 20 million Twitter followers. So whenever he does something, whenever he Tweets it out, takes a picture or whatever, it's just huge news. It's really catapulted us onto a global stage.

"He's really raised the whole profile of the club and I think it is only going to get bigger as he starts to play. That's when the community will find out what a star they have both on and off the field.

"Internationally, people are already following him because they know him but I think the bigger bump is to come locally, at a Central Florida level, as people get to know him as a player and as a person."

For the 2015 season, Kaka will remain the biggest name in the Orlando City squad that has been built around him.

The Lions have a roster laden with promising talent, both local and international, as well as a number of guys who have extensive knowledge of MLS such as Brek Shea, Donovan Ricketts, Amobi Okugo and Aurelien Collin to name a few.

Rawlins is confident that the list put together for the 2015 season will see out the initial goals that have been set before they look to perhaps strengthen further next year with some additional players who meet the OCSC code.

"We've always said that it's not a case of if it's a Designated Player or a superstar or whatever," he said of the possibility of another big-name signing in the same mold as Kaka.

"It will be a person who fits within our playing philosophy and our formation. And if that person is right, we are going to look at them regardless of their status.

"If they are wrong (for us), if they are not a good fit, we are not going to change that just to accommodate somebody. We have a style of play, we know how we want to play, Adrian is very committed to that, as a club we are committed to it because it has brought us a lot of success.

"So whoever we bring in has got to fit in with that.

"You can have the best players but if they don't gel as a team, and they don't work together as a team, then you are not getting the full potential out of them."

But for now, coach Heath is content to give less experienced players opportunities as he eyeballs the adage that age isn't necessarily an issue.

"Some people think we have got too many young ones and that's ok, but that's the way we chose to go," Heath offered.

"I've got a lot of belief in these guys and I'm pretty much of the mind, and always have been, 'if you are good enough, you are old enough'. I don't look at how old you are, I look at what you can do."

Having a world-class midfielder such as Kaka to base yourselves around is nothing to shy away from and Heath is going into the 2015 MLS season with that in mind.

The attributes the Brazilian playmaker brings to the Lions line-up fit perfectly into Heath's formation which he has curated to be malleable dependent on the state of the game in question.

"We have a way that we play. We normally have a 4-2-3-1 which has been our system of choice and it is something I have spoken to Kaka about. He has played wide left, at times he can play a false number nine," said Heath, echoing his president form earlier.

"We've got one or two things that we are going to have a look at this season and see where that takes us. I think the one thing that we do have is a lot of flexibility within the group. There are two or three important players who can play two or three different roles but ultimately it's up to us to be in the right frame of mind and go and be aggressive and play positive football.

"4-2-3-1, if you push the two wide guys on, it becomes 4-3-3 very quickly. It doesn't need a lot of tweaking to move it around a little bit.

"They are the things we will be going over in pre-season but if we need to change it in a game, we will be able to, depending on how they (the opposition) play and how they set up.

"Some games we may need to put two up front, which we have done in the past and it's not a problem. If that's the case, that's what we will do. It's a little bit horses for courses sometimes but we will set up for us and alter it as the game unfolds."

And it will be the type of attacking flair Heath speaks about, which has delivered so much success already, that will satiate the excitable supporters.

President Rawlins recently landed baseball legend Ken Griffey Jr. as a celebrity fan and the club will look to attract the interest of more household names from rival sporting codes as they continue to grow the flourishing trademark.

"Central Florida particularly is home to a lot of stars like golfers, baseball players, basketball players, retired athletes and a lot of them follow the club," said Rawlins.

"They may not be able to come to every game but they come to games, they become season ticket holders so I think Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first of several stars that you see that have declared themselves as Orlando City fans.

"It's great for them, it's great for the game and it's great for the club to get that awareness of the brand."

Read more:

SPECIAL REPORT (P1): Orlando City - the beginning and the present

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