For all intents and purposes, the regular season is over for Orlando City. Sure, they have two matches left and some pride is definitely on the line for the Lions. They could try and improve their standings marginally. They could play spoiler with Philadelphia or D.C. United. But is the nominal gain worth it? Perhaps it’s time for Orlando City to take advantage of the MLS system and get some preparation for the seasons to come at the same time.
"Play your kids" is a phrase that’s been tossed around by MLS analysts in recent history. The idea that teams need to give more time to their up-and-coming prospects in the big leagues for development. FC Dallas has been the pinnacle of this method, giving Homegrown Players copious opportunities to build their core from within. Orlando City has adhered to this to a degree, consistently fielding one of the youngest teams in the league, but now that the drawbacks have been eliminated it’s time to take it to the next level. There are 180 minutes left in the season and that time needs to be spent preparing for the coming roster changes.
Jason Kreis has made it crystal clear that there are going to be some tough decisions this winter when it comes to personnel. "I think certainly we’re going to want to go into the off-season feeling as if I’ve given everyone a chance, I’ve given everybody an opportunity to be critically evaluated," he said after the team was knocked out over the weekend. "We are doing everything we can to build a club that has the capability to be successful consistently for a long time."
He’s already seen what the regular starters have to offer and it’s likely that decisions have been made for most of them. Between training and their time on the field, Kreis knows where he wants to make adjustments. For players that have already booked a place on the squad next year, maybe it’s best to keep them sidelined. As always, there’s the inherent risk of injury. Now that the matches will only decide where City will land between seventh and ninth, it’s not worth a key piece like Kaká, Kevin Molino, or Cyle Larin going down and potentially missing some crucial time in the off-season. The Camping World Stadium turf’s infamy has not claimed as many knees this season as it did last year, but the threat still exists. If Kreis wants to be successful far into the future, it’s time to give the next generation its time to shine.
The stars have seemingly aligned for the opportunity to give the youngest Lions some quality minutes in MLS. Orlando City B’s early exit from the USL playoffs means that there are a few more bodies available for selection. Kreis has the opportunity to not only see what they can do at the next level, but also against quality opposition. With the week off for the international break, there’s plenty of time to get them up to speed. There’s a great opportunity for Kreis to see how they mesh in his diamond formation as OCB has already been utilizing a 4-4-2 for several weeks. The kids played well enough to earn a playoff spot in their first season and it’s time to reward them with some MLS matches.
Rafael Ramos and Pedro Ribeiro have yet to see the field with the first team since their injuries. Devron Garcia and Richie Laryea have yet to make an appearance after being brought in before the season. Earl Edwards and Mikey Ambrose have been stuck on the bench with little chance of seeing the pitch. Cristian Higuita and Carlos Rivas can get some final extended looks in live action before the season ends. Not to mention all of the young Homegrown Players and draft picks that the club has high hopes for. They all have the potential to be utilized in the diamond and if Kreis wants to make the most educated decision possible, it’s time to give them a chance. He could almost field a full eighteen with young talent in his preferred diamond formation. It’s disappointing that the academy players and other young talents that have been getting game time with OCB aren’t available, or else Kreis would be spoiled for choice.
The negatives are minimal. If the kids fail to live up to the challenge, Orlando gets a higher draft pick and allocation ranking to give Kreis a few more options going into his first full season. And while a Generation Adidas prospect or Jeremy Ebobisse will be available in the top five, there’s no need to tank for a top pick and throw the young guys out there just to lose the matches. Unless another Larin drops into Orlando’s lap, their next top pick will likely spend the season with OCB like Richie Laryea.
The future of the program is the players already coming through the system and they need to be given a chance to succeed. If they do, it’s a testament to the upcoming youth that the club has developed. But the beauty of the league is that whether they get results or not, the club will be better in the future for giving them the minutes. There’s no threat of relegation or Kreis losing his job. It’s time to utilize the system to the fullest extent. It’s time to play the kids.