Coming into MLS, Orlando City structured its roster a much different way than many other expansion teams have done so over the past 10 years. Adrian Heath and his staff decided to build the core of the roster around a multitude of young, talented, raw, and unproven players, mixed in with a few savvy veterans and castoffs from other clubs.
Through the first season, it was tough. As any new MLS club has found it over the years, compiling a roster that will work right off the bat is close to impossible. There were some positives to the year, though. The emergence of some of those young players helped throughout the season. Cristian Higuita, Cyle Larin, and Rafael Ramos all contributed in big ways for the Lions and provided some backup to the process that the Orlando City front office was trying to push forward.
The movement, which started in 2014 in the USL, was partly constructed by then Orlando City General Manager Paul McDonough, now with Atlanta United. After securing those young players like Higuita, Carlos Rivas, Ramos, Tommy Redding, Bryan Rochez, and drafting Larin in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, it seemed like Orlando was in it for the long haul in terms of the "youth movement."
Now, as we reach the end of the 2016 season, some of those main contributors to the original roster for Orlando are gone. McDonough left the club in December of 2015 after they brought in Armando Carneiro to be the chief soccer officer. Heath was dismissed in July coming on the heels of a 4-0 loss to FC Dallas, along with his assistant coach, Mark Watson.
Heath is still looking for a new job around either MLS or back home in England. McDonough, meanwhile, is now helping Atlanta United with its upcoming debut in MLS play by putting its roster together for the start of the 2017 season. The former Orlando GM talked a bit with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and discussed some things he learned helping build Orlando's roster that he's now taken over to Atlanta.
He mentioned how the fact that Orlando was playing in the USL before coming into MLS could have hindered the roster-building process for 2015 and also mentioned that "mistakes made with personnel need to be dealt with immediately."
The standout point that was mentioned in the article, and the point that actually relates to this one, was that McDonough believed that Orlando City may have "geared too young" when he was in charge. The current Atlanta United roster, albeit small, is being built around an even mix of talented youth players and experienced veterans. Now, with Orlando City's most recent troubles in the table, is it fair to say that the idea of the youth movement was taken too far?
When McDonough and Heath were still with the club, they set a goal heading into MLS. In three years' time, they would know if the concept of building around young talent rather than going the conventional route and getting already proven players would pay off. That three-year window was cut in half once Heath and the club parted ways. Now the team is essentially starting anew with Jason Kreis as its new head coach and two acting GMs in Phil Rawlins and Niki Budalic.
With a new staff behind the roster comes a new approach to how it is built. Kreis has years of experience in MLS with Real Salt Lake, but it's quite a different situation in Orlando when it comes to building a roster that he wants. There will be a hefty amount of turnover within the roster, but the big question when it comes will be how the staff goes about rebuilding. Do they follow the course up to this point and work to find young, talented players to try and build around them? Do they scrap the idea and move to find solid MLS players that can play in Kreis' system? Do they find a middle ground and try and do both? Time will tell and by the end of this year, we may have our answer.
In the meantime, what do you think of the Orlando City youth project? Should the team still give it time? Should they scrap it and bring in veterans? Should they find a middle ground? Let us know in the comments below.