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Luiz Muzzi: Orlando City suffered from players that had 'own agendas'

ORLANDO -- Orlando City executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi says that in reconstructing the team's roster he wants to eliminate the small groups that had "their own agendas" last season.

The Lions suffered through a brutal 2018 campaign. The early months showed promise, including a six-game winning streak. But the season soon fell apart, with manager Jason Kreis relieved of his duties in June, replaced by James O'Connor. The year spiraled out of control from there, with Orlando winning just once in its last 15 games.

Muzzi witnessed a similar meltdown during his time with FC Dallas in 2017, and knows from that experience that there is never one factor that causes such a slide to take place.

"It has to be a combination," Muzzi said in an exclusive interview with ESPN FC. "Looking from outside, I think that part of it was players starting to create little groups, and trying to have their own agendas, I think that started to affect the team. I think that then you start losing, and you get used to losing. Instead of trying to solve the problem, we start getting into that mode of, 'We're going to lose again.' It's easy to get in that mode.

"I'm a believer that we're a team. We're not going to get this guy who is this huge superstar and then forget about everybody else. Maybe we will get a star, but that guy has to integrate, has to be part of the group, has to be good in the locker room. He has to be not coming here because of Mickey [Mouse] but because he wants to work."

Orlando began its overhaul before Muzzi was officially named to his post on Dec. 18, and he added that he feels he and O'Connor are in alignment in terms of how the team needs to be built moving forward.

"We need to make this team younger, we need to make this team more of a team, we need to make this team a hard-working team, a team that will fight, and find ways to do things and stop complaining," he said. "If you're talking about the formation, how we're going to play, that's something different, and we have touched on that and I think we're going to move in the right way. We're on the same page on that. I think James has what it takes."

During Muzzi's time with Dallas the club became known as a producer of homegrown talent. Muzzi said that he'd like to replicate that approach in Orlando.

"I'm not saying, 'Take Dallas and put Dallas in Orlando,' because that's never going to work," he said. "Every place is different, has different realities. But like I said, I think that we need to get younger. As part of getting younger, I think we need to have more homegrowns in this team. Central Florida, there is so much talent here. How many homegrowns has Orlando signed? Five? Six? Look at Dallas, 24. Salt Lake too. There's no reason why shouldn't be known as a team that produces homegrowns."

Before that happens, there is plenty of work to do on the current roster. Given that Orlando conceded a league-worst 74 goals last season -- and set a dubious league record in the process -- the backline is set to undergo a considerable overhaul. Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, Danny Toia and Chris Schuler had their options declined. Mohamed El-Munir, Amro Tarek and PC Giro were traded away. That leaves the team with just two center backs at present in Shane O'Neill and Lamine Sane.

"We need a piece that is a little more experienced in the center back position," said Muzzi.

Among the moves the Lions have made are acquiring forward Tesho Akindele from Dallas, defender Joao Moutinho from LAFC, and signing midfielder Benji Michel to a homegrown contract. Sources tell ESPN Brazil that veteran Diego Ribas will join on a three-year deal worth $2 million per season. Midfielder Yoshi Yotun was also sold to Cruz Azul for a fee of $4 million.

Muzzi added that he plans to sit down with playmaker Sacha Kljestan to sound out what the player's particular role will be this season. Kljestan suffered through a drop in production in 2018, recording six goals and six assists after scoring twice and recording 17 assists the previous year with the New York Red Bulls.

"Sacha is one of those experienced guys who is going to contribute to everything," said Muzzi. "On the field, he's going to be that glue, he has to be that glue in the middle, depending on how we play. Are we going to go 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, 3-5-2? Where is Sacha? He needs to help Josue Colman become a better player, a guy who is 20 years old. It's important to have a guy like Will Johnson, Sacha, even Sane, Dom [Dwyer], those guys have to be the leaders and show the young guys how this becomes a winning combination. That's how [Sacha] fits in. I'm going to talk to him, see where he is, if he's here, if he's not here, kind of similar to Yotun. That's a conversation to be had."

Muzzi said that an incident whereby Dwyer took to social media to complain about being unable to train at the team's facility had been dealt with.

"The coach [talked to him]," said Muzzi about Dwyer. "It's one of those illnesses of the modern world. When you feel a little bit pissed at something, you go online and you tweet about something. Why? Why do you have to make the whole world know about something that in 30 minutes you're going to go, 'Why did I do this?' That's what I feel. I feel like it was more of a reaction thing. I know once we sat down and he explained his frustration with what happened, I was like, 'Listen, you went to the wrong field man. But yeah, we didn't know that you were coming, and there's the CBA. If you had just called one of us, we would have made sure things were good.' He goes, 'Yeah, I was [upset] at the time.' It's all good. It's done and solved."

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