Last week, former Orlando City B goalkeeper Mark Ridgers spoke with the Edinburgh News about his time playing at the club, in the United States, and on his return to the United Kingdom. Beyond his apparently unprovoked criticisms of American soccer fans, Ridgers also gave some insight into OCB and what we can possibly expect in 2017.
When the news was released that Ridgers was one of the OCB players that would not be returning in 2017, it was thought that the club was looking at the younger goalkeepers to have a bigger role. While the 26-year-old Scotsman had a strong 2016 campaign, the team's purpose remains to develop players for the first team. With that in mind, it would seem more logical to use the 23-year-old Jake Fenlason or the 18-year-old homegrown product, Mason Stajduhar.
However, in his interview with the Scottish outlet, Ridgers stated that the club actually wanted him to remain with OCB for the 2017 season, unless the Lions couldn't find a replacement to backup Joe Bendik, in which case they would sign him to an MLS contract. This would indicate that they were looking to continue starting Ridgers in lieu of the two younger goalkeepers.
The fact that Ridgers would likely have continued starting for the USL side had he stayed brings up two questions. Does age have a factor in OCB signings, considering it is a developmental side; and are Fenlason or Stajduhar ready to be starting goalkeepers?
By the time a player is 26 years old, it is too late to be developing him for the senior side. Anyone that age playing for OCB should be on the senior roster and ready to contribute to the senior team. Their reason for playing at OCB should only be to get minutes on the field or to help mentor younger players, as Lewis Neal did last season. If a player is on a USL contract, they should be younger players who are being developed for the senior team, as much of the team is.
The latter question concerns where Fenlason and Stajduhar currently are in their development. While Fenlason is on a USL contract, he is currently 23 years old, which means he has more room to develop, though his time is running out. Stajduhar, on the other hand, is an 18-year-old homegrown product that is seen as the future starting goalkeeper for Orlando City. It's perfectly fine if he is not yet ready to start for OCB but that time should be coming soon.
When Ridgers' name was included on the list of players that would not be returning to OCB for the 2017 season, the logical conclusion was that the club had decided to go with its younger goalkeepers who the Lions were looking to develop for the senior team. However, Ridgers' statement that he was asked to play with OCB next season leaves questions as to what the club's plan is for these young goalkeepers. We'll see what the club plans to do over the coming months and as we draw closer to the coming season.