Depth has been one of the key points of improvement for Orlando City, banded about by team officials and journalists alike since the beginning of the 2016 season. With veteran infusions into the first team and the introduction of Orlando City B, the Lions now have a wealth of options. For most of the roster, that is a good thing. For some, they risk being pushed out by the new signings. An unexpected casualty may just be Homegrown Player Tyler Turner.
Turner was signed on in February 2014 as one of Orlando City's first MLS players and, at 17 years old, was one of the youngest players on the final USL roster. He was the starting right back for the beginning of that season and proved that he was a capable player to the Orlando faithful, contributing to one of the longest unbeaten runs in USL history. While he made some rash challenges and had an affinity for yellow cards, they were mistakes chalked up to youth and inexperience. Turner showed plenty of promise and had several appearances for the United States youth teams, including captaining the U.S. U-17 and U-18 sides. In midsummer of 2014, he looked to be the future at fullback for Orlando City as it cruised at the top of the USL table and looked destined for trophies.
But Turner was pushed down the pecking order with the introduction of Rafael Ramos that same season, thanks to the club's partnership with SL Benfica. Ramos debuted with the club in August of 2014 and has remained the stalwart starter since. Turner's versatility kept him in the lineup on occasion, making cameo appearances at center back and the odd appearance at right back, thanks to one of Ramos' many suspensions.
For the United States, Turner has even had some time at left back, though Orlando City's depth there means playing time would be unlikely. Adrian Heath's attacking style of play does not suit Turner at fullback as much as it does the marauding Ramos. Even when Ramos took a nasty hit to the head and was sidelined late in 2015, Heath chose to play more attack-minded players like Brek Shea and Corey Ashe, who are predominantly left backs. Turner, like a lot of Orlando's young prospects, found himself without an opportunity for playing time.
Orlando City B was the solution to that problem, and so far it has provided outlets for the young talent in City's youth setup. Turner, along with fellow Homegrown Player Mason Stajduhar and Honduran starlet Bryan Róchez, were loaned down to OCB for the 2016 season. Unfortunately for Turner, the same problems emerged. Zach Ellis-Hayden, a Canadian defender formerly of Kitchener-Waterloo United, was waiting for him.
Turner did not make an appearance for OCB in the team's inaugural match. Ellis-Hayden started at right back and made darting runs forward, contributing to the attack in what was a solid performance. Once again, the manager tried to fit Turner into the back line as Anthony Pulis inserted him at center back against the Charleston Battery. Turner could have a potential career there, but, at a listed height of 5-foot-11, he's a tad undersized. His captaincy at the international level means he likely has the ability to command a back line and be the coordinator managers look for in a central defender. But his ability to win aerial duels at the youth international level probably won't translate to the pros with larger and stronger opponents.
The B-List: Taking Stock in Orlando City B
OCB has wrapped up its second game and captured its first point. Next week the Lioins hit the road to take on former Orlando CIty affiliate Louisville City FC. Let's peek in on the USL side and see how our B team is performing.
Turner does have his upside and he has the tools be a good player in the future. He's a hard-tackling defender with decent ball control and experience at some of the highest levels of American soccer. His talent was recognized last year by Andi Herzog, earning a call up to the U.S. U-23 team for the prestigious Toulon Tournament, and Landon Donovan invited him to the 2015 MLS Homegrown Game (where he played left back).
He has a future as a pro soccer player but whether or not that future is in Orlando is another matter. The club has already seen midfielder Estrela leave to Cyprian giants APOEL in search of playing time and Turner could be the next out the door if prospects don't improve this season. Turner is at best fourth choice for either fullback position. Center back, with Conor Donovan slowly returning from last season's knee injury, and the potential introduction of Devron García, looks even deeper as Turner competes for time there. It will be interesting to see if Pulis continues the center back experiment as the OCB season rolls on.
That is not to say Tyler's days in purple are numbered. On one hand, Turner has to earn his opportunity. Orlando City has proven playing time will not be given because of a player's salary or, in this case, which team he is technically contracted to. On the other hand, he is still the youngest right back on the payroll at only 20 years old, along with Ramos (21), Ellis-Hayden (24) and Kevin Alston (27), and has time to work his way into the lineup. With Ramos being one of the brighter young Lions, he is likely going to be transferred eventually and there is no sign that Alston is more than a veteran stopgap. But does Turner have the patience to wait for his opportunity?
The most telling sign will be who gets the call for the first round or two of the U.S. Open Cup under the new USL-to-MLS roster rules. Starting this season, players signed to OCB can sign short contracts for the senior team, meaning Ellis-Hayden is eligible. If Turner gets the nod, it will be a message that he is still in the team's long-term plans. If not, he will most likely search for opportunities elsewhere.