While the MLS season officially came to an end just last month, it’s been over two months since Orlando City last took the field, and a lot of change has happened since then. So far, the club has lost eight players, its club president, and goalkeeper coach, while bringing in four new players and officially naming a new general manager.
With the start of preseason camp less than three weeks away, let’s look at Orlando City’s roster, as it stands, with two months to go until opening day on March 5 against New York City FC.
Goalkeepers: Joe Bendik, Earl Edwards Jr., Patrick McLain, Mason Stajduhar.
Interestingly enough, one of Orlando City’s pickups this off-season was goalkeeper Patrick McLain in Stage 1 of the MLS Re-Entry Draft. McLain comes to Orlando after stints with the Chicago Fire and the USL’s St. Louis FC in 2016 and previous MLS experience with Chivas USA. As of now, it’s tough to say what the plan for McLain and the goalkeeper troupe is this season. He could wind up spending most of the year with Orlando City B, which lost its starting goalkeeper this winter with Mark Ridgers leaving to go back to Europe. I expect the same of Stajduhar, who could see some minutes in the USL this season as the club continues his development.
Orlando City was linked with Liga MX goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz, who this month joined Jaguares on loan for the next six months, until his contract runs out. Muñoz admitted to Goal.com that there was never a real opportunity in MLS, while AS Mexico reported in December that the goalkeeper would join Orlando City in the summer, when his current deal finishes. Why the Lions would be chasing a 36-year-old goalkeeper in the first place is, yes, a good question, and one that I don’t have a clear answer for.
Defenders: Jose Aja, Tommy Redding, David Mateos, Rafael Ramos, Donny Toia, Conor Donovan, Victor “PC” Giro.
The most turnover this off-season has come on the back line. The club started things off by not exercising options on defenders Seb Hines, Luke Boden, Tyler Turner, and Kevin Alston. Left back Mikey Ambrose was picked up by Atlanta United FC in the Expansion Draft after being left unprotected. Alston and Hines are still free agents, while Boden is reportedly prepared to sign with the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the USL.
Aja and Giro were both signed to four-year contracts this winter, and Toia was added in a post-Expansion-Draft trade, boosting the fullback spot. Meanwhile, the club has also been in reported discussions with Bordeaux center back Gregory Sertic. The deal has taken longer to complete than anticipated, but Head Coach Jason Kreis did tell Orlando Soccer Journal reporter Mike Gramajo this week that the club is close to completing a deal for a center back, but would not say whether or not Sertic was that man. Kreis also would not comment on Sertic in a PawedCast interview with The Mane Land this week.
Sertic would be a strong signing for the club, but regardless, the team with one of the worst defenses in the league last season is looking much better off heading into 2017. Kreis seems devoted to building a young core that he hopes will lead Orlando to its first playoff appearance.
There are still some questions surrounding Mateos and whether or not he’ll be with the club at the start of the season, which could have a lot to do with Orlando being able to land Sertic or another quality center back. Elsewhere on the back line, I think one more right back, in addition to the center back, would have the club set for the winter.
Midfielders: Kaká, Kevin Molino, Carlos Rivas, Cristian Higuita, Antonio Nocerino, Brek Shea, Matias Perez Garcia, Servando Carrasco, Tony Rocha, Will Johnson, Richie Laryea.
Harrison Heath and Pedro Ribeiro are the only subtractions in the midfield so far this winter, while plenty of questions still remain.
At this point, it’s still very tough to say what Kreis has planned for the formation this season, namely regarding the 4-4-2, which took another step towards happening with the signing of Toronto’s Will Johnson last month. The club also re-signed Servando Carrasco, creating an interesting situation in the midfield, where we could see someone like Cristian Higuita on the move, with the defensive midfield now slightly crowded and Higuita not so much a great fit for the 4-4-2. If I were an MLS team looking for a defensive midfielder, I’d be on the phone with Orlando about Higuita ASAP.
Where does Brek Shea fit into this midfield equation, too? Tough to say. He might not, and that could have been hinted at down the stretch as he saw less playing time under Kreis when healthy.
Right now, the club is looking almost set in the midfield. I’d still like to see at least one more wing player added, unless Kreis sees Giro spending some time in the midfield, which he can do along the left side.
Forwards: Cyle Larin, Bryan Rochez, Hadji Barry.
The club let go of aging forward Julio Baptista this winter, leaving the club with somewhat of a void up top behind Cyle Larin, who enters his third (and final?) season with the club. We’re all assuming Bryan Rochez comes back and competes for some meaningful playing time this season, which would be a huge boost for the Lions if he can play to the level that he showed late in 2015. Hadji Barry must develop areas of his game other than his raw speed, possibly with OCB for the full season. Rivas can also play up top, although he has played more left wing than striker since joining Orlando City. Kreis used Rivas mostly at forward.
With Larin and Rochez, I think the only thing left for the Lions to do is find this season’s Baptista, a veteran forward that can play off the bench and serve as a mentor to the club’s young strikers.