The first dominoes to fall in Orlando City’s off-season came down on Wednesday, with the club announcing it won’t pick up contract options on six players — defenders Kevin Alston, Luke Boden, Seb Hines and Tyler Turner; midfielder Pedro Ribeiro; and forward Júlio Baptista.
There are two points of emphasis from these roster moves. First, this is not the final list of people that won’t be returning next season — Expansion Draft, trades, transfers, etc. will have an impact. Second, as Orlando Sentinel reporter Alicia DelGallo noted, the club is still in negotiations with some of these players to bring them back on new contracts for 2017.
As she wrote:
Rawlins said the primary reason for declining the options was due to salary cap restrictions. Some contracts include automatic raises each year, he said, and the club must first turn down a player's option before attempting to renegotiate a lower salary, which can then clear cap space to bring in new players.
At the very least, the option declines highlight Orlando City’s need for defenders this season, as the club is now looking for depth at all three positions as Jason Kreis gears up for his first full season with the club.
Reactions to each cut:
After being picked up by Orlando in last winter’s Re-Entry Draft, Alston logged almost 2,000 minutes for the club, finding the bulk of his minutes while Rafael Ramos was sidelined for most of the season with a hamstring injury. At $130,000 in 2016, according to the numbers released twice a year by the MLS Players’ Union, it’s possible Alston could be one of the guys being asked to take less money to come back next season. But for his experience and minutes, it’s less likely he’d take less money.
On the flip side of things, Ramos is still the future for the club at right back, which makes Alston more expendable and easier to replace with a cheaper contract.
Hines has been with the club since 2015 and entered this season as a starter under Adrian Heath. But chronic knee problems throughout the season and inconsistent play made it a rough year for Hines, who made over $150,000 — the most of the five players cut. Hines is another possible candidate for a contract decrease, but my best guess is that he’s out the door for good.
The 28-year-old struggled too much this season and would have a tough time beating out the rising Tommy Redding, who could also find himself in a starting battle if the Lions bring in a higher-quality and more experienced center back, as I think they should.
“The Beast” proved to be a valuable asset, albeit with minimal playing time, for the Lions this season. For $90,000, he gave the club six goals and three assists in 23 appearances (just five starts), and came on to score a couple big goals off the bench. As Rawlins mentioned with players getting raises next season, Baptista was rumored to be in line for a big jump in pay next season, so it’s entirely possible the club wanted to cut that raise down, given his age (he turned 35 in October) and limited role with the club.
The other real possibility: Baptista was easily expendable as a backup to Larin, and the club could be searching for a younger backup forward. In that event, Baptista, of course, likely wouldn’t be returning to the club next season.
Boden was one of just two players on the roster this season to have been with Orlando City since its first USL season in town in 2011 (Kevin Molino being the other), so saying goodbye to a club legend is tough, but didn’t come as a surprise for many fans. Left back was an area of need for the club all season, especially after the Brek Shea experiment came to an end about midway through, leaving Boden as the only left back on the roster until Mikey Ambrose was signed from Orlando City B.
It felt like Kreis took a liking to Ambrose more down the stretch, which made Boden’s exit this winter more possible. Boden, while good as an attacking left back in the system he’s spent his entire Orlando City career in, struggled to keep up with faster MLS wingers and wasn’t nearly as good an MLS defender as the club was hoping for when they signed him to an MLS deal in 2014.
With Adrian Heath preparing to be announced as Minnesota United’s first MLS coach, it’s possible Boden’s next club isn’t that far off.
Turner’s cut was probably the biggest surprise of the bunch. One of the Lions’ first five signings in 2014 — on what was later reported to be a Homegrown contract — Turner showed a lot of promise in that final USL season before losing the starting battle to Rafael Ramos last preseason. The 20-year-old struggled in his seven appearances last season, and was sent to OCB this year.
Ultimately, Turner’s development didn’t meet the expectations that Orlando City had for him, and already being in an uphill battle for playing time, the club felt it was right to move on.
Ribeiro is another now-former Lion that I could see ending up with Heath in Minnesota. Ribeiro was very high on Heath’s radar in Orlando when he was picked up in the Expansion Draft, as his size and versatility made him a valuable piece in Orlando’s early MLS days when the team lacked depth at a lot of positions.
Like Baptista, Ribeiro was easy to get rid of this winter because of his limited role with the club moving forward. The 26-year-old plays primarily as a midfielder, where the Lions are already pretty set. And while he did play forward at times in 2015, it doesn’t look like he’s in Kreis’ plans moving forward.