When Orlando City launched its own USL team in 2015, its purpose was for the development of young players on the first team and players that had come through the academy, regardless of whether they went to college or not. So far, the roster has been made up primarily of players not under club control, but that should soon change.
The Orlando City academy began in 2012 with its players soon populating college teams around the country. So far, none of these players have returned to play for OCB but with the current class of juniors and seniors, we should be seeing a reserve squad primarily made of these players very soon.
Seniors Noah Franke and Michael Melvin made quite the splash the last two years for two quality universities. A midfielder, Franke became a regular starter for the Creighton Blue Jays, who have often been ranked inside the nation’s top 25, despite their drop-off in 2017. Melvin played a key role off the bench in 2016 and turned into a regular starter for a Clemson team that spent most of the season in the nation’s top 10 and was the number eight seed in the NCAA tournament. Both of these players could be terrific additions to OCB and potential future first-team players.
The junior class of Lions includes VCU’s Eli Lockaby, UCF striker Gorka Aperribay, and the Elon duo Nicholas O’Callaghan and Jaiden Fortune, all of whom have had strong college careers for solid programs. While all will likely remain in school for their senior seasons, all have bright futures in professional soccer and would definitely be worth bringing into OCB.
The only question regarding the junior and senior class is whether or not Orlando City will own their MLS rights. Orlando City is the first academy to be created prior to the team being announced as an MLS expansion side, so the league has yet to clarify the rules pertaining to these players. Even if the league does rule on their eligibility as Homegrown Players, it could always change those rules at any time, something that the league has done in the past and has been commonly criticized for.
The majority of the sophomore class and entirety of the freshman class graduated from the academy after the club had joined MLS, making them eligible for Homegrown status. While there aren’t many standouts among the sophomores, the club has a heralded freshman class that includes ACC standouts Raul Aguilera, David Loera, and David Norris. All three of these players could have easily been signed for professional contracts right out of the academy and are clearly ready for the professional level. As the club is now graduating players that have been completely developed by the club, the number of quality players is only increasing.
It’s still unknown exactly when OCB will see this team primarily made up of players that came through the academy. While the club has said it’s dedicated to the USL side in 2018 and has offered free admittance to MLS season ticket holders, reports have surfaced suggesting it may go on hiatus for this coming season, returning in the new USL third division in 2019. Either way, the next time OCB takes the field, the majority of the roster should be made up of players that graduated from the club’s academy and should be under the club’s control.
When OCB fields a team of primarily academy-developed players, it will be a turning point for a club that has put an emphasis on youth development. As Homegrown players, most won’t count toward the salary cap for the first team and the club will not have to buy them, meaning they will likely make money on any sale. It also means that it’s only a matter of time before you start seeing players from cities like Orlando, Melbourne, and other areas around central Florida that fans can identify with, rather than players from other parts of the country.
Early in Orlando City’s existence, Phil Rawlins said he envisioned at least seven players on the first team from central Florida. With the players soon to graduate from college and return to the club, that dream may soon become a reality.