Orlando City SC had many advantages over fellow expansion club New York City FC heading into its first MLS season, due to a previous existence in USL Pro. The club's final season in its initial league was used to begin building a roster for the inaugural season in the top flight, which would see eight players stay on through the transition.
But another player was on the docket for the 2015 season -- one that has already made a huge impact.
Pedro Ribeiro was drafted by the Philadelphia Union 15th overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, and was soon loaned out to the club's USL Pro affiliate, Harrisburg City Islanders. The 24-year-old Brazilian made an immediate impact with the third division side at center back, garnering praise from Harrisburg and Philadelphia staff. But he was also making an impact on someone about 900 miles south.
Orlando City and Harrisburg City faced each other twice in the 2014 season, a home-and-home in back-to-back weeks in mid-August. While the teams split the set of games, Ribeiro shined, earning USL Pro Player of the Week honors. He also caught the attention of Lions Head Coach Adrian Heath, who liked the size and athleticism of the young player.
Heath remained impressed when Ribeiro was recalled to Philadelphia in September as a target striker, netting two goals. So, in December, when Orlando City took part in the MLS Expansion Draft, Heath took the opportunity to select Ribeiro, who had been left unprotected by the Union.
It was a selection lamented by Union Head Coach Jim Curtin, who stated that he had hoped that Ribeiro would be in Philadelphia for many years to come. And, had Heath not seen Ribeiro in person during the 2014 season, Curtin's wish may have come true.
The fourth round Expansion Draft pick of Ribeiro now looks to be a steal, as the forward continues to flourish at his new club. While he didn't feature in Orlando City's first game against New York City FC, he soon made his presence known.
In the club's second game in Houston, Ribeiro came on as a second-half sub, with the instruction to make an impact. He did. In the 74th minute, Ribeiro pressured a seemingly innocuous pass to Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric, forcing the young shot stopper into a mistake, which turned into an own goal. It would be the lone goal in the club's first MLS win.
Saturday, Ribeiro was at it again. The team's depleted roster due to international call-ups and injuries gave Ribeiro his second consecutive start. And after Montreal took a 2-0 lead, Ribeiro became the spark plug he was in Houston, tallying a goal and an assist in a period of three minutes. It's all the Lions would need to bring home a much deserved point.
Whether it's creating a club culture or building the roster, Orlando City has had several advantages from having spent four years in USL Pro. The ability of Heath to see Ribeiro up close and personal as an opponent gave the coach an opportunity Jason Kreis lacked.
With the impact already made this season by Ribeiro, it looks as though having played in USL Pro is yet again paying off for the Lions this season.