About one year ago, ahead of Orlando City’s final season in the USL Pro ranks, the Lions signed a pair of promising young American defenders in Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding.
Turner inked his deal with OCSC in February of 2014, following a stint with the team in the preseason, and Redding was not far behind when he signed with Orlando in March. The duo represented Orlando City’s fourth and fifth Major League Soccer signings, and Redding – out of nearby Oviedo – was the club’s first homegrown signing, after previously training with the Lions' senior and under-23 squads.
After rooming together at IMG Academy and playing on the same United States under-17 team, both young defenders played significant minutes in last season’s USL Pro campaign. After making the move from central defender to fullback, Turner had a stellar season and was named the club's rookie of the year, as the Lions finished the regular season seven points clear at the top of the USL table, before bowing out in the semifinal round of the playoffs.
Turner tired a bit toward the end of the season, as he was asked to play huge minutes due to the injury situation at the back for OCSC.
Redding, an imposing center back with a 6-foot-2 frame, made 15 appearances on the season and earned high praise from manager Adrian Heath after a year of defensive contributions in front of his friends and family in Orlando.
"It’s fair to say [Redding] came on further than we thought," Heath said. "Toward the end of the season I thought he was our best defender."
The experience in USL proved to be valuable to the youngsters, as they adjusted to the pace of the pro game and got acclimated to working under the managerial eye of Heath. Despite standing out in 2014, however, neither Turner nor Redding have been selected to the 18-man match day squad through Orlando City’s first three MLS fixtures.
Adjusting to the pace of USL Pro is a challenge in itself, but acclimatizing in MLS is a different beast entirely. In addition to the jump in rank, the duo has also faced much stiffer competition on the back line since the turn of the year, thanks to some new additions to the roster.
The signing of veteran players like Aurélien Collin – a three-time MLS All-Star with Sporting Kansas City – and Sean St. Ledger – who has spent time at English clubs such as Millwall and Leicester City – has crowded things in the center of the defense for Redding, not to mention the loan of Seb Hines from Middlesbrough. Likewise, the additions of former MLS standout Brek Shea and early season breakout Rafael Ramos have made things tough for Turner on the flanks.
But with a FIFA international break in session, Saturday could be the day we see the pair finally make the 18-man squad in Montreal.
Orlando has been dealing with a bit of an injury epidemic in its first weeks in MLS, with Carlos Rivas, Cristian Higuita, Martin Paterson and Bryan Róchez all dealing with knocks or fitness concerns. Add in the international casualties of Darwin Cerén, Conor Donovan, Estrela, Cyle Larin, Kevin Molino, Ramos and Shea, and City will need Turner and Redding to be ready for action against the Impact.
"There will be some opportunities this week for players who haven’t seen any play yet and, if they take their chance, they can give me a tough decision about who plays next week," Heath said Monday.
Heath said a season ago that the pair had a very bright future ahead of them, and we could see the beginning of that future this weekend. Even so, at 18 and 19 years old, respectively, Redding and Turner are still green at the professional level and surrounded by more proven competition, so the possibility of an assignment to Louisville City remains an option for both at some point this season.
But for Saturday, at least, we may finally get to see two of the earliest bricks in Orlando City’s MLS foundation in the squad for an MLS competition, and that’s something to be proud of for the two young Lions.