Orlando City B's inaugural USL season ended Sunday as the Lions fell to New York Red Bulls II, 4-0 at Red Bull Arena. After stumbling down the stretch, OCB was able to win its final regular-season game over the Bethlehem Steel to qualify for the postseason. But, while OCB's loss is disappointing, there are a lot of positives to take from this season.
When OCB was announced, the intention of the team was to be a developmental side. It was the final step in connecting the club's academy with the senior team. And while not every player developed the way the club would have hoped -- yet, anyway -- there have been many positives to take away from the season.
For most Orlando City fans, the most noticeable OCB players that were on USL contracts were Tony Rocha and Mikey Ambrose. The pair played last season for the Austin Aztex in the USL but, when that club took a hiatus due to lacking an appropriate stadium, the midfielder and defender signed with OCB. From early on in the season, it was obvious that Rocha and Ambrose were two of the most important players in the team. On both defense and offense, the two made a clear difference and, when not in the lineup, their absence was noticeable.
Given that Rocha had previously been drafted by an MLS team and Ambrose had come through an MLS academy, the Lions only lost two late-round draft picks to sign the pair of 22-year-olds. Rocha and Ambrose are evidence of what the club can gain by signing additional players that haven't come through the academy. The club was able to take a chance on these young players without forcing them into the pressure of the senior team.
Another one of the main reasons for OCB's existence, and a major one, is to give first-team players that are not seeing minutes or coming back from injury significant and meaningful playing time. Players such as Tyler Turner, Conor Donovan, Harrison Heath, and Hadji Barry played key roles in OCB's season and goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. was able to get in a few starts as well.
The MLS-signed players that have been making the most of their USL experience is Heath and Donovan. The two players saw minutes last year for the MLS side but Donovan suffered a knee injury, which ended his 2015 season, and the young Heath still needed to develop. Last year, Donovan played some games for the senior side mid-season, and Heath seemed to have earned a spot in the senior team under Jason Kreis before injury sidelined him. The fact that both have been able to play meaningful minutes in the USL has made an impact on their ability to contribute to the senior team when brought in.
Probably the most exciting part of OCB is seeing the young players coming through the academy that the club plans on developing for their senior team in the future.
The key player for OCB that came out of the academy was Pierre Da Silva. The left-sided midfielder has played for the last few years with the youth national teams but this season was the first as a professional for the teenager. What Orlando City fans saw out of the 18-year-old is an exciting player that they hope to see flying down the wing for Orlando City for years to come.
Despite the fact that Da Silva was the only USL-signed player to see significant minutes, a rule that allows academy players to play in the USL team without losing NCAA eligibility gave OCB the opportunity to play some of their academy stars. David Loera and Landen Haig both received starts for OCB during the season and may be seen in the future for OCB and Orlando City. The appearances by these academy players, as well as the ones that made the bench, such as Raul Aguilera and David Norris, gave Orlando City fans a glimpse of the future. Some of these players could be the stars of OCB as early as next year.
While the club certainly wanted to see OCB do well this season, the primary purpose for the team was to ensure all first-team players received minutes and that young players were developing. From that aspect, this season was a success. As the club's academy grows, more and more club-developed players will see time with OCB, which will undoubtedly aid the senior team going forward. Just one season into owning its own USL team has shown that it will have a significant impact for the club for years to come.