So the season is over, you’re obviously feeling defeated as a quick start led to a rough finish. But there were fantastic glimpses of what this team could be at some point or another. As pragmatic as I am, I fell prey multiple times to the highs of the season that I desperately clung to as Orlando City searched for its first playoff appearance.
The good news, if you’re an eternal optimist pretending to be a realist, is that I don’t think Orlando City is that far away from a playoff appearance. With some tweaks, I think General Manager Niki Budalic and his crew have this team on the right track. And I also think Head Coach Jason Kreis, given a second off-season window, will find the right players for his system.
This isn’t an article for what I think the club will do, while I’ve taken that into consideration, since MLS contract details are as hard to get into as Fort Knox. Don’t believe me? Google just about every other league in the world and try to find information on contracts. Now try to find out Orlando City’s long-term contracts. Good luck. So with that said, here are the next steps I hope will come for Orlando City.
Is there any way Dom isn’t on the 2018 team? Not to mention all the allocation money the club gave up, but he’s one of the top finishers in the league. The only question at this point is if he’s going to be a Designated Player (DP) or not. He still has one year on his deal and could be given an extension.
However, the front office could use more of that aforementioned allocation money to bring him down below the DP threshold. Personally, I hope this is the case as Dom would be one of the best non-DPs in the league.
I will argue until I’m blue in the face that if Spector was healthy all season Orlando City would’ve made the playoffs. He was largely the reason why the team had a 6-1 start and equally the reason the Lions fell off the table when he went down.
Orlando City’s depth at center back is rough. We saw that as Orlando was constantly thrashed up the middle without Spector and sometimes even with him, depending on his pairing. But Spector’s spot is as safe as anyone’s at this point.
Arguably the club’s best player all season, Joe Bendik has zero worries. The man who has broken club records this year is going to be back between the pipes next year.
He’s had his hits and misses but I can’t see a scenario where he’s gone. He’s not good enough to get offers outside of MLS. That lends to him continuing here, but he’s going to need to be on top of his game because his spot as starting keeper isn’t a lock.
Earl Edwards Jr.
Edwards is staying. You might have doubted that if you watched him get shelled for six goals in his first MLS start, but forget it. Josh Saunders isn’t returning since his injury is to the point that you don’t bring him back with someone like Edwards in the wings.
The Landlord is going to be City’s backup goalkeeper and, if Bendik isn’t careful, he’s going to overtake him at some point in 2018.
The only guaranteed DP on the roster, Yoshi is staying. What role he will be playing remains to be seen but you can see Kreis clearly wants to run the offense through him.
Yoshi helped Peru claim an unlikely spot in CONMEBOL to advance to the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand, and he is sure to be a very valuable piece to Orlando moving forward.
Probably the most controversial name in my “locks” section, but Orlando City needs to keep him. You’re probably like me and upset at Larin this season, but he wasn’t that unproductive. He’s just a kid who made some mistakes that screwed with his head and ended up with a rough season.
Larin is one of the best non-DPs, especially considering he’s only in his third year. If Orlando City is smart, he’ll be there in 2018 paired with Dom to be one of the most formidable front lines in the league. Just try to ignore the transfer rumors.
An Adidas Homegrown product and one of Orlando City’s brightest young stars, Redding is going to be here next year. He had some growing pains this season but I’m still confident in him and his development. Pairing him with Spector for another full season will do wonders for the young center back.
Possibly the best inclusion to the 2017 Lions, Sutter was as consistent of a performer as you could have asked for. Playing right back for most of the season, and keeping fan favorite Rafael Ramos on the bench, Sutter performed admirably.
Starting a majority of the matches for the Lions, Sutter is a permanent staple in the back line in 2018.
Remember, I said this is what I want to happen, not what will happen. But while I think it’s a slim chance, Barnes should be a lock. A former DP level, Barnes still has a style that is unlike any of the other Lions on the roster. His direct style, that needs no one to feed him, is something that fits in well with a pass-happy City.
Should Feel Safe, But No Guarantees
Orlando’s enforcer for many matches this season, his place should be safe on the team. While his spot is the first position I would upgrade, his consistency and work rate should keep him on for 2018. I would love to see him relegated to the bench, but we’ll see.
After some injury spells, Orlando City took a risk by trading for the former Rapids center midfielder. Similar to Barnes, I love his style to not be afraid to take players on one-on-one. I think he needs some time to get acclimated to the system, but he has a place here. He can be a solid rotational player and spot starter as the team progresses.
One of Orlando’s biggest issues has been depth as an expansion team and Powers off the bench would be a very serviceable hold for the roster.
A Homegrown product, Stajduhar hasn’t seen much of the field. But as an 18-year-old goalkeeper behind Edwards and Bendik, that is expected. Despite his lack of playing time, I think he will be back.
While we don’t know what is to come of OCB, I think Stajduhar could still be held on as an emergency third or fourth keeper as that role is mainly slotted for development.
I’m a fan and you should be too. The point is the team doesn’t have depth at this position and Aja supplies that. A staple in 2016, I think Aja still has the ability to fill gaps for the center back depth moving forward. He won’t be starting 20 games, but Aja can be a solid sub for either Spector or Redding.
Nocerino is probably the guy I hate writing about the most in this section. Our own Bearded Guy — by the way I have a beard too, despite keeping it tight, and I get no credit — loves this guy and will fight me and all of you who don’t like him. I want Noce gone, especially at his salary level. But, I think the Italian has more in him.
I’m hoping the fact he said he has three or four more years in him means he’s getting a last wind and will be a great leader and spot starter for Orlando. Just like I mentioned with Higuita, I think the defensive midfield role is the top priority to improve. But Noce could play a valuable veteran role, if he’s ready to accept it.
I Want Them To Stay But I’m Not Confident
I’ve mentioned depth at center back a lot and if the club doesn’t bring people in, Hines has to stay.
I know the allegations, and I’m a broken record on depth but filling needs is what happens when you’re going into the fourth year. Johnson is a decent backup and spot starter at 30 and, if he still has the locker room, is a valuable veteran. People make mistakes, I’m not going to crucify him without all the facts. In my 2018, he’s there.
I always have been a Ramos fan and always will. At 22, his athleticism and pace up the right wing still makes me see a bright future. I give him one more year to see what he can do.
This may be a surprise to some of you, but Toia started a majority of Orlando’s matches at left back and I’m still not convinced he’s the long-term answer. At his contract and with the need to upgrade the defensive front, Toia could be the most vulnerable.
Pack Your Bags Because Nothing Is Guaranteed
I’ll never say someone should lose their job (except one guy below) but these players are either definitely on their way out or haven’t played enough to give a real good idea. I have noted who I think could still be loaned.
If you don’t know already, Kaká is gone. It’s a good thing as Orlando City now has millions to spend on a younger DP. I thank him for his service and you might not like it, but it’s the right move by the organization and I’m happy the front office held strong. It shows a competency of an organization that wont be backed into a corner by emotion.
I hate writing this. I love Josh. I’ve followed his career for a very long time. But with his neck injury, whether it’s by choice or not, Earl Edwards is most likely taking the second spot and the third spot is not typically used for aging keepers. Best of luck Josh. I’m rooting for you in whatever the next step is.
The hardest to put in any category as he may prove me wrong. But Hadji strikes me as a USL/NASL player who can eventually be a bench MLS player. If OCB stays he would be perfect for that team.
Richie Laryea (Loan Out)
He’s been a Lion for two years but he needs so much seasoning that I’m not sure how he fits in 2018. He’s not good enough to impact the game as a starter or sub yet, and the USL is the perfect place for him, I don’t know what’s in store for Richie but I think he is to leave if OCB folds.
Pierre Da Silva
Conor Donovan – Loan Out
This is harsh and there’s only one player in this category for me. I have heard Kreis loves him but he needs to go. Now.
I wrote an article about Orlando’s failed DPs a while ago and Rivas was a very big part of it. I don’t like him, and if you do I’d ask you to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. He’s lazy. Always has been. Maybe not in training but he’s been the laziest player in matches since day one. I’m also sick of him shooting shots into the stratosphere.
He might be the worst waste of money in MLS and I want him gone. This is my one super emotional decision. I want him gone. He’s useless. We need better. Rant over.
So there you have it Mane Landers! Get at me for your thoughts on who you want to see in or out.
Looking forward to the banter!