On June 30, 2015, Orlando City announced that it would own and operate its own reserve team in the USL, following eight MLS clubs that had launched teams over the past two years. While Orlando City B is unanimously considered a positive for the club, there is a competitive drawback for the team itself.
Saturday night OCB played its first league game, hosting the Wilmington Hammerheads at Eastern Florida State College in Melbourne. The Lions fell 2-1 to the independent USL club and found a competitive negative consequence in the process.
While Orlando City and OCB train together at their Sylvan Lake Park training center in Sanford, there is still a difference between the first team squad and the reserve squad, especially those under MLS contracts and those under USL contracts. That was clear, as the two teams split up during preseason with Tony Rocha being really the only USL player to play for the MLS side in preparation for the coming season.
One of the main purposes for OCB, and one that Adrian Heath has spoken at length about, is to get first team players valuable minutes when they aren't seeing playing time in MLS matches. Three players in the starting lineup for OCB Saturday night -- Hadji Barry, Richie Laryea, and Earl Edwards Jr. -- are first team players that came down to play in the USL during the senior team's bye week.
While Laryea did play last weekend in the team's final preseason game against the Eastern Florida State Titans men's team, Barry and Edwards had not played a competitive game with the other members of the team. Throwing in players that haven't played with others on the team, regardless of training sessions or the fact that they play the same system, is likely to have a negative effect on the team's cohesiveness. As various first team members will likely see sporadic time with OCB this season, that's a problem that will occur throughout the USL season.
Early in OCB's loss against the Hammerheads, the lack of playing time together seemed clear between the midfielders, most of whom are on USL contracts, and striker Barry. Barry, who has been playing primarily with the senior team, was the oft targeted player during the early stages of the game Saturday night but the connection was missing. The team's strategy later changed to building play -- often down the left wing -- with USL contracted players Mikey Ambrose and Pierre da Silva.
Following the game, midfielder and goal scorer Andrew Ribeiro talked about what was missing. "Everything's not in the right spot," Ribeiro said. "Hopefully, in quick time, everything is all there. It just didn't look like it's all there."
For everything to get "there," as Ribeiro put it, there needs to be a team cohesiveness that only comes with consistently playing together. And with players moving up and down between the senior team and reserve team, that's unlikely to happen.
But, as even Anthony Pulis has publicly stated, winning is not the only thing that concerns OCB. In fact, it's not even the most important thing. The most important thing for the club is that its young players, both on MLS and USL contracts, are getting quality minutes in a competitive league so that one day they'll be ready when called upon by the senior team.
And as for the players, while they certainly want to win and the postgame sounds from the home team dressing room confirmed their frustration, their goal is to move up to that next level. Ribeiro confirmed that when asked about how an independent club like the Hammerheads views this game. "They're all trying to move up," Ribeiro stated. "Just like anybody else."
It's certainly an unintended negative consequence of a reserve team, but OCB will not likely see the type of cohesiveness mandatory for on-the-field successes. And this lack of cohesiveness is something that will remain throughout the season -- to the frustration of certain USL players.