Orlando City cleaned house when the club announced roster moves following the end of the season. The 11 players whose contracts expired or options were declined is already more than the nine players that left the club last winter. It’s plausible that a handful of those 11 could return — Orlando re-signed Servando Carrasco, Seb Hines, and Kevin Alston several months after declining options a year ago — but there is a good chance even more players will be on their way out. But while the bones of the midfield and back line are still in tact, it will likely be an entire rebuild of the striker corps.
If Cyle Larin gets his way and Giles Barnes can’t or won’t come to an agreement for a new contract, the Lions will be left with only Dom Dwyer and Carlos Rivas. That’s assuming Rivas still has a place in the side after falling out of favor upon Dwyer’s arrival. On top of that, Rivas is still taking up a Designated Player spot and while removing the tag is plausible, it would mean using a large amount of allocation money and/or cap space to compensate. Head Coach Jason Kreis and General Manager Niki Budalic will have to make a decision on whether or not the Colombian’s production is worth the money. If they decide it’s not, it would mean an entire rebuild of the strikers from 2017.
Dwyer is the piece Orlando will look to build around, but discussions of a contract extension haven’t been as straightforward as OCSC would like. As of now, there’s no guarantee City will have a cornerstone forward in 2019. Which makes it all the more important that the club gets the right pieces in place around Dom. It’s not just about a potential partner, it’s about improving the depth behind them and improving an offense that scored just 39 goals in 34 games, while potentially losing the club’s top scorer in almost every category in Larin.
Add on the losses of Kaká, Rivas and Barnes, and the Lions would be without 64% of their offense. It’s a clean slate for Kreis and company, but that means they have to get things right. Luckily, with large cap hits coming off the books, there’s some freedom to spend.
The trouble with Orlando’s 2017 crop of strikers is the lack of dimension. Larin is a prototypical target striker, Barnes is incredibly skilled on the ball, and Rivas has plenty of pace but little end product. Their skill sets didn’t mesh well and it resulted in lackluster strike partnerships. Dwyer began to change that, but he’ll need help.
There are potential pieces that could be put into place soon enough. The Lions have been linked to Norwegian forward Jo Inge Berget of Sweden’s Malmö FF and academy striker Alejando Pereira has been on the fringes of the U.S. U-17 side. OCB striker Albert Dikwa had a strong rookie season in USL but isn’t ready to make the jump to MLS just yet. There are a few college prospects available in the SuperDraft — potentially including Orlando native Santiago Patino of FIU — but it’s always a risky endeavor relying on draft picks for consistent minutes. Even after two seasons of solid production with OCB, even Hadji Barry’s option was declined.
Kreis and Budalic made strides to bring in talented defenders prior to the 2017 season. This winter, the focus will need to be on the attack. Bringing in so many new faces is naturally risky; there’s no telling if they will adapt to MLS or Orlando. But the side needs an infusion of well-rounded forwards that can work in tandem, drop back into the midfield to receive the ball when asked, and pop up in the box when needed.
It’s guaranteed that there will be a few new faces leading the line for Orlando in 2018, whether or not they’re the right ones will be make or break for the Lions.