Orlando City built its inaugural MLS roster on potential; whether the team’s young stars were brought in from overseas or through the draft, it was generally an untested bunch. Two seasons later, several of those still on the roster have yet to force their way into the starting lineup or, in several cases, have had their chance and failed to impress for one reason or another.
As Jason Kreis takes stock of the roster with the future in mind, several familiar faces may find themselves on the outside looking in at the end of the year. But who needs to step up and make an impact in 2017 to guarantee themselves a place in Orlando City’s future plans?
Seb Hines’ stateside career has not gone as planned. Battling injuries to his knees and bouncing in and out of the starting lineup, Hines has failed to impress anyone, losing out on a starting job to Sean St. Ledger and Jose Aja on separate occasions. He has been one of the more consistent components of one of the worst defenses in MLS over the past two years and actually had his contract option declined following the 2016 season. But Kreis has handed him a second chance, signing the England-born center back to a new three-year deal.
For Hines, 2017 comes with new expectations. After being dropped from the first team when Kreis arrived mid-season, his likely lower salary most likely comes with a bench role. Kreis has been intent on bringing in yet another central defender to help fix what has been a shambolic defense, potentially further pushing Hines down the depth chart. Seb will have the opportunity to fight his way back into Kreis’ plans, but if he doesn’t, it could be his last season in purple. The club has a team option at the end of every year of his contract and can cut the deal short, which should hopefully provide extra motivation.
A big part of whether or not the defender is back in purple in 2018 is staying healthy. His injury-prone knees were supposedly aggravated by the turf of Camping World Stadium, but it’s to be determined if Seb can stay healthy on the team’s new natural grass field. If he can, he’ll need to make some sort of impact, even if it’s just as a substitute. He’s proven that he can win his aerial duels, but he’ll need to combine that with better play when the ball is on the ground to stay with Orlando City.
There was a lot of hype around the young Portuguese fullback when he signed with the Lions in 2014. He was coming off a great UEFA Youth League campaign with SL Benfica and shone in USL, scoring on his debut. Since then, Rafa has struggled with inconsistencies from red cards to injuries. He missed out on most of the 2016 season with hamstring issues and for all his flash on offense, he has struggled mightily on the defensive end. Time is starting to run out for the Portuguese defender as 2017 is the final guaranteed year of the contract he signed last March.
With Orlando City re-signing veteran fullback Kevin Alston, who started in place of Ramos for the majority of the year, there is a consistent and capable defender waiting in the wings to step in again. He may not be a lockdown defender, but if Ramos struggles to start the year again there will likely be calls for a change. Newly acquired fullback Donny Toia is also able to play right back, which could spell more competition for Ramos. He will need to prove that he is much-improved on the defensive end in conjunction with his ability to provide width higher up the field to prove that he is more than just potential and lock himself into a starting job.
Earl Edwards, Jr.
There has been a lot of positive talk about Orlando City’s third-round selection in the 2015 SuperDraft over the last two years. The coaching staff felt comfortable enough with Edwards as the backup to trade away veteran Donovan Ricketts in 2015 and he remained the backup throughout 2016. While it’s great to have young talent that the staff feels is capable of playing in MLS, he’s played himself into a state of limbo. He’s only made a handful of appearances combined in the U.S. Open Cup and the USL, and we have yet to see what he’s made of in MLS action. That could change in 2017 after the Lions selected Patrick McLain in the Re-Entry Draft, adding more experience to the depth chart. With Mark Ridgers returning to Scotland, Orlando City B is looking for someone new in between the sticks and with McLain capable of serving as backup to Joe Bendik, Earl could finally have the opportunity to play a full professional season.
If that’s the case, it’s all up to Edwards to show that he has all the makings of an MLS keeper. He’s not quite three years younger than Bendik, who has all the makings of a lasting starter for the Lions and could be minding the net for years to come. That, combined with talented Homegrown prospect Mason Stajduhar set to come through the ranks, and Edwards could soon have his place threatened. Without an extensive body of work in live action, it’s up to him to take the opportunities he’s given and perform in live action to prove that he has what it takes this year.