Orlando City had three members of the club that made Major League Soccer's annual list of 24 Under 24 for the 2016 season. The likes of Cyle Larin (No. 1 on list), Tommy Redding (No. 23), and Cristian Higuita (No. 21) will all return to Orlando for the 2017 season, and the expectations should be as high as ever as the Lions look to make the playoffs for the first time in their young history.
Larin is No. 1 on the list for good reason: He has been a constant threat to opposing defenses since he began his time in the league.
Drafted from the University of Connecticut, Larin has logged 31 goals in 59 games played and picked up a Rookie of the Year award in 2015. This past season, Larin continued to show dominance for the Lions as he continued to prove to be a force up top.
Larin and Orlando City now enter their third season in MLS. In order to take that next step and make the playoffs, Larin is going to have to be a major piece of the puzzle. This season, Larin’s expectations should be considerable as fans, coaches, and teammates will expect improvement from the 2016 season.
The expectation on goals is what should rise the most. After a brilliant rookie campaign where Larin netted 17 times, that number dropped this past season to 14 — even with over 500 more minutes being played.
If the Lions are going to be successful and make a push to the post-season, it will be on the back of Cyle Larin’s goal scoring. The 21-year-old striker needs a season where he scores anywhere from 16-21 goals, and that would be a great indication into how far Orlando City may go.
Higuita came in at No. 21 on the 24 Under 24 list, and after an impressive season in 2015, 2016 would prove to be a little different for the young midfielder.
Higuita is in the game to clean up the midfield and shake things up. With a team-high 3.7 tackles per game, he did a good job of shaking things up. The down side to his physical play, however, were fouls — nine yellows and a red card hurt the midfielder throughout the season. Also struggling with consistent injuries, Higuita was hard pressed to find the same minutes he did in his rookie campaign.
With manager Jason Kreis looking at other options in the late games of the season, it’s only right to wonder what is in store for Higuita in the 2017 Orlando City campaign.
Jason Kreis leaned heavily towards a Carrasco/Nocerino defensive midfield in the last few months of the season, which could say something about Higuita’s future with the club. Orlando City wouldn’t have any trouble selling Higuita overseas if the market was there, it’s just a matter of how much they’ll get for him at this point. If Kreis also switches to the diamond formation, that could leave Higuita on the outside looking in as less of a fit for the system.
Higuita is a solid midfielder that can continually get the job done in 2017. The concern is if Higuita is going to be the player in favor for Kreis. While Kreis is tasked with the job of figuring out the best combinations of players, it will be up to Higuita to continue to prove himself in preseason camps all the way throughout the season. If he wants to earn the same type of minutes he did in 2015, his play from the start of preseason will be key.
Redding is only 19 years old and comes in at No. 23 on the 24 Under 24 list. Granted, in just a week he will turn 20, Redding will look to dominate this list for the next three seasons with a great chance of reaching the top spot before he hits age 24.
The young, 6-foot-2 center back, who made 16 starts this past season, is every bit as promising as Larin is for the Lions. If Orlando City is able to keep him as he continues to grow into a more complete player, then the future is very bright.
The first Homegrown Player signed by Orlando City logged over 1,300 minutes during the 2016 season and averaged 1.4 tackles per game and 2.8 clearances, per WhoScored.com.
Redding was really good, but not great, and showed plenty of potential, which the Lions will hope continues to develop into next season. One area he must improve is in the air, where he struggled to win headers or to keep the opposition from directing aerial crosses toward goal. Experience should help him in this area, as he learns the little tricks of the trade to keep attacking players off balance. He has plenty of athleticism to be a better header of the ball.
Redding may be in the same boat that Higuita is in. While he has proven himself as a talented player, Kreis didn't see the fit down the stretch of the season and as a result, minutes were tough to come by. Age is on his side though, and Redding has shown a lot of upside.
This 2017 season will be interesting for the center back as he could be looked at as both a third option and part-time starter.
The Three Lions
These three Lions players will all be looking to make an impact on the 2017 season. It will be interesting more so for the likes of Higuita and Redding, as both players fell out of the rotation in the late stages of the 2016 season. Both players will have to continue to prove themselves and take the next step in their development to challenge players ahead of them on a daily basis.
Larin has worked hard enough to date to be seen as the No. 1 option up top at forward. His goal for the 2017 season is to improve in earning shots and scoring goals. If Larin can do this, then he can help move the Lions to their first playoff berth.
The season doesn't necessarily ride on the shoulders of these talented young players, but they can all play important roles for the Lions. Whether it is coming of the bench or being the top scoring option, these Orlando City players can help make their mark on what could be a benchmark season.