With two new soccer teams coming to the Central Florida area in the forms of Orlando City B and the Orlando Pride, one long-standing team is closing up shop. After almost 20 years in operation and three different name changes, the Orlando City PDL squad, a.k.a. the Orlando City U-23 team, has officially shut down.
The team was founded back in 1998 as the Central Florida Lionhearts, but changed its name the next year to the Central Florida Kraze. From 1999 to 2011, the Kraze were one of the PDL's best franchises in the Southeast. In 2004, the team won its first Southeast Division title and the PDL National Championship. To date, the Kraze remains the only team to come out of Florida to win a PDL title. In total, the Kraze made six playoff appearances, four U.S. Open Cup appearances, and won two Southeast Division titles.
On Nov. 30, 2011, Orlando City purchased a controlling interest in the Kraze, rebranding the team as Orlando City U-23. Over the past four years, the team has finished as high as second in the regular season and made it to the semifinals in 2012. In 2014, the team also had a decent run in the U.S. Open Cup, upsetting USL's Charleston Battery in the third round of the tournament in an exciting penalty shootout (which you can watch here). In its final year in existence, however, the team finished seventh and did not qualify for the postseason.
In its 17 years of operations, many skilled players took the field for the Central Florida Kraze/U-23 squad. Former Orlando City USL players Dennis Chin and Adama Mbengue as well as current OCB midfielder Johnny Mendoza spent time with the team. Defender Oumar Diakhite, currently with Olhanense in the Portuguese first division and Tyler Blackwood, currently with Queens Park Rangers, are other notable former players. Three current MLS players also played with the squad; Romario Williams, who's with the Montreal Impact, Tony Taylor, who's with NYCFC and of course Graham Zusi, who's with Sporting Kansas City and the U.S. Men's National Team.
With the addition of Orlando City B to the list of Orlando City development teams for this coming year, the club felt that it didn't make much sense to keep both teams. Team President Phil Rawlins said that it was "superfluous" to keep the U-23 team around with the addition of OCB.
The news about the team's disbandment has not been widely publicized. In fact, last year's players did not even know the team would not be fielded this coming season. Current Rollins College midfielder Johnny Nartowicz, who played with the U-23 team last year, said that he had heard the team was possibly going to be dissolved, but hadn't heard anything official from the club.
"I'm definitely disappointed that there's not going to be an Orlando City U-23 team anymore." Nartowicz told The Mane Land. "I think it was a great platform and opportunity for college players from around the country to all play together for a great club like Orlando City. It's a shame there's not a team anymore because the U-23 team was always such a high level of play and competitive environment, which made us all better players going into the college soccer season."
This decision to disband the U-23 team will mainly affect those players who are currently in college and are not quite good enough or ready for OCB, but still want to play competitive games when their college teams are not in season. College players are not allowed to sign professional contracts and keep their college eligibility.
Currently there are five MLS teams that have both a USL team and a PDL team, those being the Chicago Fire, Toronto FC, Portland Timbers, Seattle Sounders and New York Red Bulls.