At first glance, the acquisition of Earl Edwards Jr. in the MLS SuperDraft does seem to pose an interesting dilemma for Orlando City SC. While most goalkeeping scenarios for the upcoming season involve Edwards Jr. spending time with USL PRO affiliate, Louisville City FC, the draft pick still highlights the abundance of goalkeepers already signed with the club.
Tally Hall, Donovan Ricketts, and Josh Ford combine to form a rather solid goalkeeping core already, the drafting of a keeper with the potential of Edwards Jr. would seem to suggest that one of those three will not be with the club by season's end.
The most logical transfer pick would be Ricketts. At 37 years old, Ricketts is closing in on the end of his MLS career and it has been generally assumed he was signed by the Lions mostly to be a fill-in between the posts until Hall has recovered from his ACL injury.
Ford is most likely going to play the role of backup to both Ricketts and Hall, and likely will remain in Orlando for the duration of the season. However, if Edwards Jr. is impressive at Louisville, the desire may be to bring him up to get some time in MLS, which makes Ricketts that much more expendable.
Logically, the question than becomes, what would Ricketts' transfer value be?
I cannot imagine at his age and coming in for a partial season, Ricketts would command much in compensation for Orlando City. Most likely, the best return would be some allocation money or perhaps a roster spot, neither of which typically do a lot of good midseason. I believe instead the Lions would find greater value in keeping all four goalkeepers for the entirety of the 2015 campaign.
This is how I would have it play out:
Ricketts should start the season as the number one, with Ford and Edwards Jr. serving as backups. This allows for Ford and Edwards Jr. to go through preseason training and games with Orlando City, and lets the coaches and front office really evaluate the future prospects. Once Hall returns, Edwards Jr. heads to Louisville for regular playing time.
Hall takes over as the number one, with Ford as the backup for MLS regular season games. Ricketts moves over to be the first choice to start all U.S. Open Cup matches and friendlies. Ricketts has shown himself to still be more than capable in net, but his age does raise questions about his full season durability. Hall is coming off a serious injury and having time to rest throughout the season would be a real boon -- and increases the likelihood of him being fully fit down the stretch and hopefully into a playoff run.
Ricketts has value as a starter or backup. (photo by Orlando City SC)
Orlando City's front office has set their sights, expectations, and standards for the club very high and I see no reason for them not to aggressively go after a berth in the 2016-2017 CONCACAF Champions League, particularly if the club does not have to sacrifice the form of its top goalkeeper to do so.
You may believe a Supporters Shield or MLS Cup Championship are out of the question for this season but the Lions would hardly be the most shocking team to make a deep run in the U.S. Open Cup or even win it. Not many clubs have had the ability to rotate goalkeepers with the resumes and abilities of Ricketts and Hall. Why should the Lions not capitalize on that advantage?
At the end of the season Ricketts may choose to retire or, if not, Orlando City could explore transfer options at that time. His value may have diminished some, but if Ricketts is able to backstop a run to a U.S. Open Cup and preserve Hall's form for a playoff run, then he would have made up for any lost value in the transfer market.
An ideal scenario, I know. And you want to be pessimistic. You want to know what happens to my idea if OCSC gets eliminated early from the U.S. Open Cup or a deep playoff run does not happen this year. What then? Is there still value in keeping Ricketts around?
Yes, I still believe there is.
While the 27-year-old Josh Ford has been around MLS for a little while now, he is relatively unproven at this level. Having only started a handful of reserve league games in the past couple years for the Seattle Sounders, Ford is still very much a question mark heading into the season.
If the season begins and Orlando City coaches are unimpressed with Ford, having Ricketts to back up Hall upon his return would still allow Edwards Jr. the time he needs to finish developing down in Louisville before being called up.
Or perhaps Ford plays great and suddenly becomes a valued asset in the transfer market, promising a much higher return to Orlando City than Ricketts would bring.
The truth is, you cannot plan around every eventuality. Injuries could crop up at any time. Slumps or surprising bursts of form can happen anywhere along the way. The club just has to be willing to remain committed to a plan and ride out the wave of the season.
Orlando City is a club with plans for the future but an ability and desire to produce quality right now in the present. Ricketts' value to this club is at its highest if he remains with the club for the duration of the season. Hall can ease back into regular action, Edwards Jr. can develop under the watchful eye of the club, and the Lions can see just what Ford brings to the table. There is no need to rush through this process.
Keeping Ricketts allows the Lions to protect the future without sacrificing quality in the present. That sounds like the kind of plan Orlando City loves to get behind.