As Orlando City SC and New York City FC head into Major League Soccer in 2015, there is one major difference that sets the two apart. That difference is that, while NYCFC is a completely new entity, Orlando City is an existing club with existing fans and an existing club culture. The fact that Orlando City is an existing club has given the Lions several advantages in building their roster, which are already evident.
One advantage is with the MLS Expansion Draft. While NYCFC had to use the draft to fill starting spots for their team, the Lions already had several spots secured and used the draft to add to their depth with high-risk, high-reward players. A second advantage is that the club had the opportunity to work with a potential future signing while in USL Pro, which made what many consider a risk to be much less so. The third advantage is that Orlando City will not have to have the immediate success that expansion clubs that weren’t promoted need to have.
Heading into the 2015 Expansion Draft, Orlando City had 12 players signed to its roster and potentially eight starters. Having the core of the team already in place gave the club the opportunity to focus on adding depth and take more risks with selections than their counterparts. This meant the ability to take players that have had injuries in the past but, if those injuries don’t reoccur, could return high rewards with little financial impact. It also meant that they would not be relying on MLS castoffs to be key parts of the 2015 season as the only players available in the draft were players not deemed important enough to protect by other MLS teams. Plus, once a player was selected, that MLS team would be able to protect another unprotected player, limiting the draft’s depth.
In June of 2014, Stoke City midfielder Brek Shea came to Orlando to train with the club. Struggling in England, Shea was looking for a potential move back to the United States. Because Orlando City was an existing club in the middle of a season, Shea was able to train with the club, just as if he was a member of the team.
That gave this expansion club the unique opportunity to see how the player would fit into Adrian Heath’s system and for Shea to see how he fit into the team and city. Many have questions about Shea but the Lions’ questions have already been answered, which gave the club the confidence to sign the midfielder.
Possibly the most important advantage for Orlando City is that the club is not under the same pressure as its co-expansion side. NYCFC is attempting to create a new club culture and attract new fans to make the club successful. To do that, it’s imperative that the club wins consistently or the it will likely be doomed.
The Lions won’t have that pressure. The work of building a fan base has been done over the past four years, during which the club has collected five trophies. The core fan base they’ve collected over that time has bonded with the club, developing a loyalty that will allow the club the leeway to struggle on the field without failing. That has given the club the opportunity to make potentially risky and young signings this off-season while NYCFC has been forced to build an older roster for immediate success and likely struggles in the future.
There are two types of expansion clubs in MLS: those that are brand new and those that were promoted from lower leagues. As a club promoted from a lower league, Orlando City has gained several advantages over New York City FC. These advantages have given the club the ability to make many decisions and try things with the roster that it otherwise wouldn’t have. It also is the reason that the club is better built for the future than if it had first appeared this season.