Or­lando City coach

New Or­lando City coach known for his in­ten­sity, drive to win

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jor­dan Cul­ver Pro Soc­cer USA

James O’Con­nor will de­mand max­i­mum ef­fort when the Lions face Toronto tonight.

James O’Con­nor ar­rived at Syl­van Lake Park at 6 a.m. for his first day as Or­lando City’s head coach and didn’t leave un­til 16 hours later.

For O’Con­nor, it was about set­ting an ex­am­ple. He wants every player and coach work­ing with Or­lando City to know he’s not go­ing to ask any­thing of them that he isn’t will­ing to do him­self.

So when he de­mands a high work ethic, no one can brush him off. Con­stant work is what it’s go­ing to take for the Lions, losers of nine con­sec­u­tive MLS matches, to turn their sea­son around, he said.

Spend­ing more than half the day at Syl­van Lake Park is part of that.

“We’re go­ing to work un­til we get it right,” O’Con­nor said. “What­ever that means, that’s what it means.”

“If I de­mand a high work ethic from my play­ers, then I have to em­body that. I can’t say to play­ers, ‘I want you to work re­ally hard,’ and then I’m check­ing out of here at lunchtime and

hit­ting the beach. It doesn’t work.

“I need to be con­sis­tent. If I’m go­ing to be mak­ing that de­mand of some­one else, I need to be liv­ing that de­mand. Then it’s fair. Then peo­ple go, ‘OK, that works.’”

O’Con­nor will coach his first home match as Or­lando City’s head coach at 8 p.m. to­day against Toronto FC. It won’t be his first time with Or­lando City’s home sup­port­ers cheer­ing him on, as he was with the club as a player in its USL days, but it’ll be his first time in front of The Wall at Or­lando City Sta­dium.

That’s some­thing he’s look­ing for­ward to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

“Just gen­er­ally – and I know it’s re­ally dif­fi­cult, be­cause ev­ery­one is so frus­trated – just to try to sup­port the play­ers as much as you can,” O’Con­nor said.

“That’s what we all need. We re­ally need to get be­hind Or­lando City as a club. I can un­der­stand the frus­tra­tion with­out ques­tion. I think that the im­por­tant thing for us is to try to get some con­fi­dence and re­lief back into the play­ers.

Of course, part of the rea­son O’Con­nor spends his days and some of his nights an­a­lyz­ing film and de­mand­ing ex­cel­lence from his player is be­cause he wants to give Or­lando City’s sup­port­ers some­thing to cheer for.

That starts with get­ting the most out of his play­ers.

Team bond­ing

It’s no se­cret O’Con­nor is an in­tense, straight-tothe-point per­son. Play­ers have said he brings a “black-and-white” men­tal­ity to train­ing.

Still, O’Con­nor said he’s aware he rep­re­sents change and there’s a process to en­sure play­ers are com­fort­able with him.

For that, O’Con­nor turns to the Kubler-Ross Change Curve model. Ba­si­cally, it’s a process bro­ken down into stages – shock/ de­nial, anger/fear, ac­cep­tance, com­mit­ment – and man­ag­ing those stages key to suc­cess.

“Be­ing aware of the process and the emo­tional as­pect and un­der­stand­ing that when you do im­ple­ment a lit­tle bit of change, if it’s too much, too soon, it be­comes a prob­lem,” O’Con­nor said. “There has to be a bal­ance. It’s some­thing that we’re very in­ten­tional about speak­ing of be­cause that’s what’s go­ing to hap­pen.”

To that end, O’Con­nor said he’s also look­ing to give play­ers a fair look, even though the sec­ondary trans­fer win­dow opened on Tues­day. He said the club has had some “pre­lim­i­nary dis­cus­sions” re­gard­ing new play­ers, both noth­ing beyond that as of Thurs­day.

He said he and the coaches are fo­cused on the up­com­ing sched­ule – the Lions face Toronto tonight, then play the Philadel­phia Union in the U.S. Open Cup on Wed­nes­day, then face the Colum­bus Crew next Satur­day on the road.

“I want to be fair to peo­ple, as well,” O’Con­nor said. “I’ve had it my­self when a new coach comes in and he doesn’t re­ally look at play­ers. He says he will and then just sort of pushes ev­ery­one to the side. We want to be in­ten­tional about be­ing very fair. Give peo­ple a chance.

“There’s a cou­ple of ar­eas that I’ve looked at and I’ve thought, ‘OK, maybe we may need a lit­tle bit of strength­en­ing there.’ So, there’s been some ini­tial con­ver­sa­tions. That’s very early stage as we want to re­ally fo­cus on this Satur­day against Toronto.”

Fa­mil­iar coaches

Two men O’Con­nor re­lied on while at Louisville City FC are help­ing him cul­ti­vate re­la­tion­ships with play­ers.

As­sis­tant coach Daniel Byrd and goal­keeper coach Tha­bane Sutu on July 6 were an­nounced as hired by Or­lando City from Louisville City, though Byrd was with O’Con­nor for the lat­ter’s first day on July 2.

O’Con­nor said the two coaches help bal­ance his in­ten­sity when in­ter­act­ing with play­ers. Plus, hav­ing his lieu­tenants from his for­mer club en­sures a smooth tran­si­tion.

“There’s a to­geth­er­ness,” O’Con­nor said. “There’s an un­der­stand­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions. Can­didly, if I come in and we’ve got a coach­ing staff and I’m say­ing, ‘OK, we’re go­ing to work these hours,’ they’re like, ‘I don’t re­ally want to do this.’

“There’s re­sis­tance within the staff, never mind the play­ers. For me, it’s try­ing to make sure there’s an un­der­stand­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions. What the play­ers can ex­pect from us? What we can ex­pect from them?”

Sutu and Byrd both have no is­sues with O’Con­nor’s ex­pec­ta­tions.

“He likes to win,” Sutu said of O’Con­nor. “Let me just put it that way.”

Sutu said O’Con­nor’s in­ten­sity means he must step up his own.

“You have to, other­wise you’re gone,” Sutu said with a smile. “It’s re­ally that sim­ple. You have to match it. I don’t have a prob­lem [with it]. I know I share the same work ethic as he does.”

Byrd, who was a youth coach with Or­lando City while O’Con­nor was a player, said O’Con­nor’s tell-it-like-it-is at­ti­tude doesn’t change.

“James is a re­ally downto-earth guy,” he said. “James is a fam­ily man, but when it comes to foot­ball, he switches right on and it gets re­ally in­tense, real quick. He’s a re­ally good man and he’s some­one who takes his foot­ball very se­ri­ously.”

Sharp fo­cus

O’Con­nor is aware peo­ple can get frus­trated with his in­ten­sity. At this point, the 38-year-old coach isn’t go­ing to change.

He knows his in­ten­tions are good. That’s what counts.

“I was very com­pet­i­tive as a kid,” O’Con­nor said. “I think I’ve been told a lot of times in my life that I can’t do things. It’s like every­thing, you have two choices. You ei­ther be­lieve them and think, ‘Oh I can’t do it,’ or you don’t ac­cept it and prove them wrong.

“In my ex­pe­ri­ence, to prove them wrong, you have to work ex­cep­tion­ally hard. You need to be very fo­cused and very in­ten­tional about your ac­tions. That process is some­thing that we’re try­ing to be here.”

Does that level of fo­cus ever get tir­ing?

“Prob­a­bly for other peo­ple,” O’Con­nor said. “Not for me.”

CHARLES KING/STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Or­lando City coach James O’Con­nor: “We’re go­ing to work un­til we get it right.”

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