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Orlando City Quietly Takes Major Step Forward Toward Future Success

With three academy players dressing for Orlando City B Saturday night, Orlando City took a major step forward as a club.

Matt Starkey

While Orlando City's development academy has been praised as it continues to place young players on the U.S. youth national teams, it's still very much in the early stages of producing players that may one day star for the first team. But with moves made in the last two weeks, an important change has been apparent.

Typically, players who play alongside professionals will lose their college eligibility. However, there is a special rule within the USL that allows current academy players to be called up to Orlando City B without losing their college eligibility.

Prior to the arrival of Jason Kreis, this was a rule that wasn't used by Orlando City. Every player that took the field for the Lions was either on an MLS contract with Orlando City or a USL contract with Orlando City B. But over the last two weeks, that has changed.

When OCB hosted the Wilmington Hammerheads last Sunday night, there was a noticeable difference in the team sheet. One of the substitutes was David Loera, a player on the U-17/18 academy team. In Saturday night's 2-1 win at Louisville City, that change went even further with academy players Jack McCloskey, Raul Aguilera, and Loera on the bench.

While last week saw a big step with Loera being named on the team sheet, it went even further Saturday night. In the 54th minute, Marius Obekop had to come off due to injury. His replacement was 17-year-old Loera. Loera became the second player out of the academy to play for OCB this season and the first fully homegrown player [read: not simply homegrown because MLS designates them as Homegrown Players] to play for Orlando City.

The point of OCB is to be the reserve team for the MLS side. While the club can have priority to sign three OCB players, most of those signed to USL contracts will end up elsewhere. The hope for the future is that the vast majority of players on OCB will be homegrown talent from the academy, working their way up to the senior team.

It may seem inconsequential to many that these three teenagers were on the team sheet Saturday night but it's not. Players develop much quicker in a club environment than they will in college. So a player that debuts for OCB at 17 years old is going to be much more advanced in his development than a player that goes to college and makes his debut at 21 or 22.

This season, Orlando City has seen four players that were developed in the academy join OCB, a professional side in the club's developmental pyramid. While three of these four are still academy players, there is currently a rapid change in the club and, over the next few years, you'll likely be seeing OCB fill up with homegrown talent. And that will the key to Orlando City's future success. For those paying attention, Saturday night showed the future of the club.