Orlando City jumped into its wild off-season with a bang on Wednesday, announcing nine roster cuts following the 2015 Major League Soccer season. The cuts included the shocking decision to part ways with goalkeeper Tally Hall, who started 24 games for the Lions this season after returning in May from ACL surgery.
In addition to Hall, Orlando City opted not to exercise options with midfielders Lewis Neal and Eric Avila, forwards Danny Mwanga, Sidney Rivera and Adam Bedell, defender Corey Ashe and goalkeeper Josh Ford. Midfielder Tony Cascio is also out of contract.
These moves signal significant changes to the roster this winter, and also show new Chief Soccer Officer Armando Carneiro putting his stamp on this team less than a month into the job. With about $903,029 cleared off their books from these moves, the Lions will have plenty to work with this off-season.
What do these moves mean? How does the loss of each player effect Orlando City moving forward? Where does the club go from here? Let's try to answer some of the questions, shall we?
As we stated, the decision to part ways with Hall blindsided just about everybody. It's not a move that makes sense on the surface, but when you dig a little deeper you can start to see why Carneiro and company came to this decision.
Hall will turn 31 next season and is coming off of his second major knee surgery in just over a year, after tearing his meniscus in Orlando City's final home game against New York City FC on Oct. 16. With a base cap hit of $215,000 (2015 salary), the Lions might have decided that clearing Hall's budget was much easier than putting their hopes into an injury-prone goalkeeper that gave up nearly two goals a game in 2015 (1.76 goals against average).
Eligible for the Re-Entry Draft on Dec. 10, Hall is sure to draw interest from teams around the league. However, Orlando deciding to straight up part ways with him instead of trading him to get something in return suggests there could also be a weak market.
Hall's departure can mean two things for Orlando next season: first, they're banking on Earl Edwards Jr. beating out likely another veteran MLS goalkeeper for the starting job next year. The 23-year-old showed a lot of promise in 2015 after being drafted out of UCLA in January, and the Lions' staff thinks the world of him as a potential top-tier goalkeeper in MLS. Going with Edwards Jr. now, however, after just a handful of starts this season, would be surprising to say the least. Second, they could be planning to hit the international market for a better starter more worth the money than Hall.
The good: Orlando City cleared a significant chunk of money off of their books by moving Hall.
The bad: they just lost a big fan favorite and one of the main leaders in the locker room, while potentially throwing a young and inexperienced goalkeeper into the fire in 2016.
The decision to cut ties with Neal was also pretty surprising to hear, and shows how much higher this move goes over Adrian Heath and his coaching staff. Heath loves players that can fit into different areas of the field and contribute, and Neal was just that for the Lions this season. His knowledge of the system made him an easy choice for Heath in the Expansion Draft.
The 31-year-old started in 18 of the 21 games he appeared in for the Lions this season, and it would not be shocking if he hung up the boots for good and moved on to another level of the game, likely as a coach. His connection with Heath and the coaching staff could make an Orlando City B position seem not all that crazy, either.
The good: no more Lewis Wondolowski.
The bad: the Lions lost an MLS vet that could fill a bunch of different positions and knew just how Heath wanted his system to run -- a player-type they'll probably look to add this winter.
Orlando City acquired Ashe during the summer as a quick-fix full back to fill the depth chart, and for the most part it was a move that paid off. Ashe played well with the Lions during his brief stint, showing he could play at both left and right back.
Ashe's cap hit in 2015 was roughly $180,000 -- a steep price to pay for a fullback only playing a part-time role, so declining his option doesn't come as a shock. The team could always go back and negotiate with him to bring him back on a cheaper contract, but a former MLS All-Star like Ashe probably won't be looking to take less and sit on the bench in Orlando.
The good: cleared cap space, which is always good.
The bad: the Lions will need to search for another veteran fullback to fill his place and possibly compete with Rafael Ramos for a starting gig in 2016.
The Lions picked up Avila through the U.S. allocation process before the season, signing him on a one-year loan from Liga MX club Santos Laguna with the option to buy him at the end of the season. Obviously, Orlando City decided they didn't want to continue making the Brek and Avi Show and let Avila go.
Avila appeared in 21 games while with Orlando City, making 15 starts. He only scored one goal, which also happened to be nominated for MLS Goal of the Year, while recording two assists. His main log of minutes came on the right wing, replacing Kevin Molino, who went down in May.
The good: there's not much benefit from this for Orlando other than clearing off a roster spot that most expected to be freed up anyway.
The bad: no more Brek and Avi Show. :(
Cascio is one of those moves that just ended up being a real disappointment. At the end of the day, taking Cascio with the second pick in the Expansion Draft probably seems like a real head-scratcher, but, like Neal, Heath saw Cascio as a guy who could fill multiple roles and probably should have played a lot in Molino's spot instead of Avila had he not spent the year working through injuries.
Ultimately, Cascio was just a body taking up cap space and a roster spot. A like-for-like replacement on the roster is possible for 2016, granted that guy can stay healthy, too, of course.
The good: Lions can gain a healthy player to take up that spot.
The bad: when healthy, he's a valuable MLS vet that knows the league and can plug into a few different positions.
The Lions picked up Ford in the Re-Entry Draft last December, and the former Seattle Sounders backup didn't make his first appearance for the Lions until the final home game against NYCFC, when he came on for the final six minutes to replace the injured Hall.
Ford was nothing more than a short-term backup for the Lions, and actually spent part of the season on loan with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, of the NASL. His loss is nothing more than clearing an unneeded body.
The good: the Lions will probably just bring in another goalkeeper that can backup Edwards Jr. or whoever the starter is.
The bad: there is no bad, really.
The former No. 1 overall SuperDraft pick came to Orlando hoping to revitalize his career under Adrian Heath, and at the end of the day, it was nothing but a failure for all parties involved. The 24-year-old only appeared in four games and didn't score a single goal in purple in a competitive match (although he did score in a friendly at Louisville City).
There was really no chance of seeing Mwanga play another game for Orlando City, and now we'll see if another team out there thinks enough to give him one more shot.
The good: dumping a wasted roster spot.
The bad: with Mwanga, Neal, and Cascio gone, Pedro Ribeiro is Orlando City's last Expansion Draft pick remaining on the roster. MLS will be just fine getting rid of the draft for future expansion teams.
Another SuperDraft pick that didn't quite work out, Orlando hoped for more out of Rivera, sending him to spend most of the season with Louisville City FC, in USL. For some reason, which we won't speculate, Rivera didn't get much playing time with Louisville under James O'Connor and was sent back to Orlando City for the rest of the season. He never appeared in a game for the Lions, making him a prime candidate to not have his contract option picked up for 2016.
The good: no real benefit.
The bad: Late round draft picks find it tough to stick around, and Rivera is just another example. With that being said, there's not much harm here. They tried, they failed. Life goes on.
And finally, Bedell, who Orlando City acquired from the Columbus Crew near the end of the summer transfer window for a second-round SuperDraft pick. Before even playing a game for Orlando, Bedell was loaned out to Denmark, where he scored a handful of goals in his first few games before cooling off of late.
The Lions hoped to keep Bedell on loan in Denmark for some time, hoping he'd develop into a better player that could help Orlando in 2016 or beyond. Obviously, the plan didn't last very long, and Orlando basically gave up a second-round draft pick for squat.
The good: it's an open roster spot.
The bad: they lost a draft pick, which may or may not have actually helped the club next season anyway.
There you have it, folks. Let's hope these roster moves pay off for the Lions in 2016. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below, and the Mane Land wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving!