A soccer season for any club presents its fair share of ups and downs throughout the year, and 2017 will be no different for any club hitting the field. One of the most important aspects for any club looking to be successful is staying healthy and having enough depth. With the combination of both of those, a club has the chance to have a rewarding season.
Orlando City could use the fortune of having both depth and good health as it begins 2017. The following is an outlook of who could be the most important players coming off the bench. A few weeks back I gave an idea of what the starting lineup could look like as the season kicks off and now, for what it is worth, here are the most influential bench players.
Cristian Higuita has the potential to be a starter, but if he doesn't start he should be the No. 1 option coming off the bench.
Higuita had all of the potential to be one of the most important players in 2016 after a good campaign in 2015. Instead, he failed to impress Head Coach Jason Kreis and found himself relegated to the bench after struggling with injuries and failing to find his form. His lack of form could be attributed in part to the trade of Darwin Cerén, but could equally be attributed to the continued good play of both Antonio Nocerino and Servando Carrasco.
Higuita was given a 6.5 rating to 2016 finish the season by our staff. Heading into 2017, Higuita has to hope to show improvements where needed. Right now, he is a borderline starter and without much preseason left — plus a new leg injury now to deal with — will there be enough time to work himself into the starting XI?
Look for Higuita to start games this season but also look for him to be a contributor from the bench. His fate is in his hands ultimately. With good play, Higuita could be a major contributing member to the OCSC lineup.
Carlos Rivas is a player that has potential. Then again, Rivas has had that same potential for the last two seasons for the Lions but has failed to grab the brass ring. Still, Rivas remains just 22 years old and his future should be bright.
His potential has carried him this far for the Lions but you have to wonder if his time is coming to an end. Could this be the last season that Rivas has to impress for Orlando? My guess is that time is running out for Rivas, but the important thing to remember is that he still has this season.
Our staff rated his 2016 season at a 5, citing a major lack of consistency. This really is his biggest problem to date. If Rivas could find a way to be more of a consistent threat, then he could quite simply be a menace to opposing defenses for Orlando City. For Kreis, this will be his biggest hope.
Rivas could potentially come off the bench and be an immediate contributor. If you watch the Premier League, then think along the lines of Son Heung-min for Tottenham Hotspur. Son has been a continued threat for Tottenham off the bench and has earned his way into a starting rotation. In regards to Rivas, this should be his ultimate goal. When he gets 20 minutes of playing time, he absolutely has to make the most out of those minutes.
Rivas, as usual, is up in the air. If his mind is right and he is committed to a high standard of performance, he could absolutely be great coming off the bench. Anything less would be a failure on his part.
Tommy Redding is easily one of the most promising players on the entire roster for the Lions. Unlike Rivas, Redding has shown signs of consistent improvement and looks like he could be our first Homegrown star.
After only two games in 2015, Redding played in 18 games in 2016, starting 16 of those. For a struggling defense, Redding was one of the brighter spots. The young defender played over 1,300 minutes and gained unmatched experience that can help fast-forward him into a consistent starting position.
While Redding will be one of our most promising players period, he will more than likely not be a starter. He is an insurance policy for the likes of José Aja and Jonathan Spector, who should be the starters come opening day. Redding will be a first-option defender when it comes to subs.
Redding will be important to this club this season and will prove to be very valuable by season’s end — I have no doubts.
Last up is Servando Carrasco, who is another defensive midfielder. Higuita and Carrasco are both locked in the same role and battle for playing time. Carrasco should get his share of playing time, even after being a third option last season.
What Carrasco adds is ultimate depth in the midfield. The other half of the beloved Alex Morgan had a contract that was up in the air for a little bit of time, but now it seems as if he will be along for the ride for the men in purple. With that, Kreis will have a complete midfield of players.
He’s been very solid in the defensive midfield, giving the Lions a strong presence without risky tackles that could potentially see the team going down to 10 men. His playing style fits in well with the team whether it stays with the 4-2-3-1 formation of former Head Coach Adrian Heath, or move, as expected, to a 4-4-2 formation that has been favored by Kreis over his coaching career.
My sentiments exactly. Going down to 10 men will more than likely happen a few different times this season. If this is the case, Carrasco could be the man looked at to come in and help lead the team. He has a strong presence and is typically good in possession.
Carrasco’s 2017 may not be one of a ton of minutes, but I fully expect his minutes to be of value.
A team’s full potential is reached through more than just the starting XI. The majority of the time the XI you see start a season aren't the same men finishing the season. The bench players sometimes see unwarranted ridicule, but oftentimes they are the most essential component to a team looking to make a championship run, and 2017 will be no different. If Orlando City hopes to reach the playoffs and ultimately have a successful season, the bench will have a say in the matter.