As the calendar turns to 2017, Orlando City B continues preparation for its second season in the USL. But what will that second season entail? And how will it be any different from the first season?
The 2016 USL season presented a lot of challenges for OCB, many of which won’t be issues this coming season. For example, the Lions had to put an entire roster together and were playing over an hour away from their training facility. Given that some of their players are being brought back for 2017 and they will be moving into the club’s new downtown stadium, both of those issues have been solved. But the changes for 2017 go beyond the field.
Orlando City launched its development academy during its early years of USL play and it has slowly been growing. It typically takes about seven years after starting an academy to actually begin producing players that have had the majority of their development within the club’s structure, a time frame that the Lions are quickly approaching.
The seven-year time frame is actually rather accurate when you look at where Orlando City currently sits. Last season, teenage academy product Pierre Da Silva had a breakout year and academy players David Loera, Jack McCloskey, and Landen Haig saw minutes for the Lions reserve team. This coming year will likely see multiple academy players sign professional contracts with the club and join OCB for the 2017 season.
If multiple players that were developed, not just for one year but for several years, within the Orlando City academy do make their professional debuts, it will mark a milestone for the club. While the club definitely puts an investment into its academy players, it’s much less costly than signing a high-profile star. If Orlando City can produce its own young stars, it’ll be economically beneficial to the club.
Additionally, if you can produce a couple players that get significant interest from Europe, the academy can practically fund itself. While MLS’ backwards single-entity structure means that the club would only get a portion of the transfer fee, even though the academy fully developed the player, the fee it gets would likely still outweigh the investment made in the player during his development. That allows the club to invest more in the academy to produce better players while still being able to spend on the first team.
There are going to be several changes for OCB in 2017 that will be big improvements for the club. The fact that the young Lions will be playing on the same field as the senior team might show them the target they’re shooting for and will keep them closer to a larger portion of the fan base. But the biggest change in 2017 will likely be the introduction of multiple academy players that should see regular playing time. This will be a milestone as it will move the club one step closer to producing a significant portion of the first team squad out of the academy, a goal that Phil Rawlins stated when the academy was founded. It will certainly be an exciting year in 2017 for Orlando City B.