Prior to being signed in January by Orlando City to play for the club's nascent reserve team, Orlando City B, few in the United States had ever heard of 25-year-old Scottish goalkeeper Mark Ridgers. But Ridgers' performance Friday night showed the excitement of an MLS team having a reserve squad in the USL.
Having played the entirety of his career in Scotland, and the majority of that in the lower leagues, Ridgers came to Central Florida as an unknown. But after Friday night, when Ridgers earned his team its first ever point with a few spectacular saves, those that follow Orlando City closely are now well aware of the goalkeeper. Finding hidden gems is something that is exciting about an MLS club sporting a reserve side.
While there certainly can be hidden gems that appear in MLS, it's far less likely than in the USL. Most players that become stars in MLS are either well known draft picks, well known foreign imports, or have made themselves known, at least to local fans, during a stint in the USL. But with a USL side that signs players to USL contracts, you get the opportunity to see some players whose talents may have only been properly assessed by the coaches of the club that signed him.
After Friday night, Ridgers is on the mind of most Orlando City fans that follow the Melbourne-based reserve team, but he's not the only player relatively unknown to Orlando City fans that has turned heads. Mikey Ambrose and Tony Rocha played last season with the Austin Aztex but were without a club when the Aztex went on hiatus for the 2016 season. The young Lions swooped in to sign the duo that have been outstanding additions to the reserve side.
Another player that's starting to turn heads of Lions fans is midfielder Pierre da Silva. The 17-year-old's talent shouldn't be too surprising, as he's represented the United States at the youth levels, but the Homegrown Player is more than holding his own against much older opponents. Even those that knew of the young player had likely never seen him play and must be impressed with his performances playing in front of Ambrose on the left side.
With Orlando City now in MLS and chasing big names, the chances to see a young unknown rise to stardom are slim, at least not without him making a name for himself at OCB first. The introduction of OCB has given Orlando City and its fans a lot of advantages. The ability to see hidden gems rise to stardom is just one more.