We're seven weeks into the MLS Season, and despite a regrettable turn of events last week, Orlando City still look to be a playoff team in the Eastern Conference. Given the history of expansion teams in Major League Soccer, that's a serious accomplishment.
That said, things change, teams evolve, and we'll need serious contributions from a number of players we haven't heard much from yet as we get deeper into the season.
The Lions have already established a few players who clearly fill important roles off the bench for the club. Eric Avila has been a major contributor so far at a couple different positions, and Carlos Rivas has appeared in five of seven matches.
Here are five guys who we haven't seen much from yet, but figure to play a major role in City's 2015 campaign:
1. Tally Hall
We'll start with an easy one in keeper Tally Hall, who is progressing ever closer to a return from the ACL surgery that ended his 2014 season. Coach Heath has said from day one that Hall was brought in to be the starter, and while Donovan Ricketts has been passable filling in, I don't think he's done enough to really make it a competition when Hall is healthy.
Hall has been ramping up his practice in recent weeks, and he's been cleared by team doctors to take shots and practice general keeping. The Texan will need another few weeks to strengthen his knee, but expect him to be between the pipes for the Lions in early June.
2. Tony Cascio
Tony is a player who Orlando selected in the second round of the expansion draft to provide depth and experience in the midfield, but so far he's failed to make an appearance. The former Colorado Rapids man was coming off an ACL injury as well, so he may still be regaining his fitness to some degree. He's also suffered through a back issue that kept him out of training.
When healthy, Cascio is a dynamic player who can contribute significantly on the attacking end. He has the potential to be a useful fill-in on either wing, as he provides more offensive threat than Lewis Neal or Avila. Heath will likely be careful with him for the time being, but he could be a very valuable player off the bench later in the season.
3. Sean St. Ledger
To put it bluntly, when Aurelien Collin is your starting center back, a strong CB option off the bench is absolutely essential. Collin has already missed one match on a red card suspension, and it won't be the last. There's also yellow card accumulation to be concerned about.
St. Ledger has made a couple appearances already and looked competent in the back. It'll be important that he really works in practice to build chemistry with Collin and Seb Hines, so he's ready to start next to one or the other when called upon. He'll need to play well to keep his spot; young-gun Conor Donovan looks likely to be playing with the U.S. U-20s this summer in the U-20 World Cup, and he'll try to build on that experience to climb the Orlando depth chart.
4. Luke Boden
While there is still a camp of Orlando City fans who think Bodz should be starting at left back, it looks like the Brek Shea experiment is here to stay for the foreseeable future. That said, Shea has had injury issues in the past, and it's looking more and more like he'll miss a number of MLS matches on U.S. Men's National Team duty.
Boden will almost certainly make double digit appearances by the end of the year, and it's absolutely essential that those aren't just "fill-in" performances. Coach Heath's system is heavily reliant on the fullbacks providing width in the attacking end, so it will be essential that Boden is up to the task when Shea is out.
5. Bryan Rochez
If you think the Honduran Designated Player is never going to see any playing time up top, you clearly haven't been paying attention. So far this season, we've seen Carlos Rivas, Pedro Ribeiro, Danny Mwanga, and now Cyle Larin start in the number nine role for the Lions.
There have been questions about fitness and Rochez's comfort in the system, but I still believe that the DP will have an impact in 2015. His game is more refined than Larin's, and he's a more natural striker than either Rivas or Ribeiro. At this point, this sounds like a bold prediction, but don't be surprised if Rochez is the regular starter by season's end.