Yesterday, Orlando City took part in the MLS Expansion Draft alongside New York City FC, the league’s other brand new team. Both clubs were allowed to select 10 players left unprotected from the other 18 MLS rosters. Of the 10 players selected by the Lions, three were defenders. Many have speculated how these selected players will fit into the squad and what effect their selection will have on the team’s existing players.
Prior to Orlando City’s final USL Pro season in 2014, the club announced the signing of two teenage American players from the IMG Academy in Bradenton -- Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding. Redding, a native of nearby Oviedo, became the club’s first homegrown player. At just 17 and 18 years of age, many wonder whether the pair of U.S. youth internationals are too young to contribute major minutes to an MLS team. But on Wednesday the Orlando City front office may have given a glimpse of how they see each player’s role in the coming season.
Orlando City chose three defenders during the expansion draft: Jalil Anibaba from the Seattle Sounders, Heath Pearce from the Montreal Impact, and Eric Gehrig from the Columbus Crew. However, shortly after the draft it was reported that the club had traded Anibaba to Sporting Kansas City as compensation for Aurelien Collin who joined the club during Monday’s half-day transfer window. They also traded Gehrig to the Chicago Fire for the Fire's 2016 second-round SuperDraft pick.
Many mock drafts leading into Wednesday had the Lions selecting a right back and center back to solidify those positions with veterans instead of putting pressure on the teenagers. While the club is keeping a selected center back in Pearce, they decided not to select a right back. Many believed the club would select Houston Dynamo’s Corey Ashe to start at that position, but the club chose otherwise.
The addition of Collin, 2013 MLS Cup MVP, and Pearce, former U.S. international, likely places Redding on the bench during the 2015 season. As many have speculated, having Redding behind two established veterans will give the young center back the opportunity to learn the craft. While he’s still a key part of the club’s future, Redding only took part in 15 of the team’s 28 games in 2014. With little first-team experience playing behind Brad Rusin and Rob Valentino much of last season, it’s no surprise that the club isn’t throwing Redding into such an important role during its inaugural MLS campaign.
While Redding is being given time to mature, it looks as though Turner will be thrown into the fire right away. Expectations were that the Lions would select Ashe to start at right back and allow Turner to study behind the seasoned veteran. Even when the club selected both Pearce and Gehrig, many felt one of the two would move from center back over to right back. But once Gehrig was traded to Chicago, the role the club has in mind for the 18-year-old defender seems to have become clear.
Turner had a breakout year in 2014, playing in 24 of the team’s 28 games. Like Luke Boden on the left side, Turner turned out to be a perfect fit for Adrian Heath’s attacking style. However, that was in the third division and Turner is just 18 years old. So it’s certainly a possibility that Turner may still be too inexperienced to start in the first division. While the club still expects to make a few signings before the season starts, it looks like the job of starting right back belongs to the teenager -- at least for now.
Orlando City answered many questions Wednesday about how their roster will look in 2015. Now, with the draft behind us, we have an idea of what the immediate future holds for the club’s two U.S. youth internationals. We learned that Tommy Redding will likely backup two experienced and successful MLS veterans and that Tyler Turner’s key role in the Lions defense may begin sooner than expected. We’ll see whether these expectations become reality when Orlando City’s inaugural MLS season begins in March.