by: Kevin Kernen
James O’Connor is leaving.
Lots of parallels are running through my mind, and emotions through my heart. I could sit here and analyse every part of how it has come to fruition, but it’s immaterial at this point.
Supporters handle these kinds of things differently, and I can’t tell you what to feel. For me, it’s a mixture of thankfulness for everything Coach has done and a faint sting that it’s ended the way it has.
I’ve been a LouCity supporter since the beginning (I’m not an original Cooper, but I was a 2015 STH). I remember the very first signings of Dacres, Juan Guzman and Guy Abend, and the first match day against St Louis. I’ve felt the (mostly) ups and (occasional) downs. I’ve weathered the player turnover, the ownership changes, the front office restructures, and through it all there was a hand that steadied the ship. As my meager career has progressed, I have had at-length conversations with James, and his resolve and dedication to the cause was unquestionable. He is as straight line of an individual as i have met, and a kind person underneath a steely exterior.
It must have been a hell of a debate for him, to give up what he has built from nothing to a champion in just a few short years. He is moving his young family and trading his status as ‘the man,’ to move up to MLS. He left Orlando to gain head coaching experience, and now he returns as their top man. Here, he’s controlled the entire sporting sphere of LouCity, and he is sure to surrender a large part of that in an MLS team. I can’t help but feel like the deck is stacked against him in some respects. Orlando wants to take the roster they have now to the playoffs. MLS ownership will not be magnanimous in the face of adversity. If anyone can right that ship though, it’s James.
Don’t get me wrong: nobody here was naive enough to think that he would stay forever; we knew we hit the proverbial jackpot with JOC. From his recruiting, to his sound yet malleable tactics, to his unfashionable, if not practical sun hat- his dedication and resolve to this organization transcended description, and for that he deserves our acclaim. Without him, or more accurately, without the team’s results, the forthcoming stadium would probably not be a reality. If the team did not achieve such success on the field that it did, I doubt the club would find itself with as rosy of a future as it anticipates now.
But, let us not deify him. He wrote the opening stanzas of this club’s history, but he does not warrant a statue. He (despite a few close calls in the team’s infancy) never pulled on a purple kit. He never scored a goal, recorded a save. He did inspire his players to overachieve and reach within themselves, but it was up to them to deliver. Deliver they have, and now we need them more than ever, as a cadre of them have been given control of the team.
There are no illusions over the task ahead of PdP, GD IV and Luke. We will struggle without O’Connor, but this is a championship-caliber team, it’s within these guys to repeat last season. Between the squad in place, the sublime ownership group, the dedicated if not lean front office, and the renowned supporters, the job is tantalizingly attractive to any coaching talent around, and while a timetable to install a new manager isn’t forthcoming, the search will be intensive, I’m certain of that.
We all will be wishing James the very best of luck in Orlando, anyone can see he deserves the post. We’re all hoping for a USOC semifinal match up with OCSC too.
Saturday night will be JOC’s send off, fittingly with a team we have run the gamut of emotions against- New York Red Bulls II. Show up, and shower him with your thanks and well-wishes because come Monday, there is a new leader for this team. Three of them, to be exact.