Depth is always a problem for expansion teams, regardless of sport. For MLS teams, it's no different. On Saturday night, Orlando City's depth was exposed but New England's gave Lions fans a reason for optimism for the future.
Due to MLS's reluctance to observe FIFA international dates, Orlando City lost three key players over the weekend. Cyle Larin and Darwin Ceren joined Canada and El Salvador for FIFA World Cup qualifying and Kaká joined Brazil for a pair of friendlies in the Northeast.
The result of the call-ups was devastating for the Lions. With three key starters missing, Orlando City doesn't have the depth on their young roster to replace them.
While the Revolution didn't suffer as many absences as City, their advantage in depth was clear. While Orlando City looked to subs like Bryan Rochez and Danny Mwanga, the Revolution were able to call on Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury.
But why will the depth improve for Orlando City in the future?
In general, MLS is not structured for teams to have depth. With only 28 players on a roster and an extremely low salary cap of $3.49 million for 2015, teams are forced to find other ways to build a squad that can withstand key absences.
One reason for the lack of depth is that most teams have been built over time, while Orlando City built most of its squad over this past off-season, partly through the MLS Expansion Draft. That leaves Orlando City often using players considered castoffs by other teams.
Part of General Manager Paul McDonough's job is to build a squad that will compete in the future. Young players like Rafael Ramos and Cristian Higuita are seen as pivotal pieces in that process. Chris Tierney and Kelyn Rowe have played their entire professional careers for the Revs and, having gone through the development phase that several Lions are currently going through, are now key contributors on a weekly basis.
Two other key figures that impacted Saturday night's result were Scott Caldwell and Diego Fagundez. Both players are homegrown that came out of the Revolution's academy. They've also grown to become key members of the first team, and both started Saturday night.
While Orlando City technically has two homegrown players in Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding, neither were a part of the Lions' academy. But founder and club president Phil Rawlins has made it a primary objective from the beginning to build an academy that will continually produce first-team talent.
Today, Orlando City is starting to see players graduate from the academy that in a few years could have the impact of Caldwell and Fagundez. Talents like David Norris and Raul Aguilera are quickly rising through the ranks and soon may be making that impact.
Another positive that should excite Orlando City fans is the addition of the USL reserve team. By having a USL team, Adrian Heath will be able to store players that aren't quite ready for the first team under the tutelage of former Lion midfielder Anthony Pulis, and will be able to call on them if needed.
Assuming MLS doesn't make a rule limiting the ability to loan players from the reserve team to the first team, the Lions will have an entire USL squad to call on if needed. The new addition to the Orlando City structure will guarantee that the team will never again be placed in a position unable to fill out the 18-man team sheet.
As with any expansion team in any sport, Orlando City's depth has been an issue in its inaugural season. It was a big difference between the Lions and their opponents Saturday night. But there are reasons to believe that soon that gap will close and losing players due to international call-ups, injury, or suspension won't have as big of an impact as it did this past weekend.