Monday morning marked the first training session for Orlando City B’s second season, and for all but four returning players, a chance with a new team.
Besides goalkeeper Jake Fenlason, Lewis Neal, leading scorer Michael Cox, and Zach Ellis-Hayden, OCB will have a completely new look to its roster.
“Great to be back out on the field,” Head Coach Anthony Pulis said after practice. “On a personal level, more than anything, far too much time spent in the office in the off-season, going through video and recruiting. So it’s fantastic just to finally get the group together and working out on the training pitch.”
As of right now, Orlando City B has five defenders, four midfielders, four forwards, and one goalkeeper on the roster. The Lions have brought in 10 new players through the off-season, including academy product Joe Gallardo, former Orlando City U-23 player Paul Clowes, and the 20th overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft, Ben Polk.
“They’ve integrated really well so far, to be honest,” Pulis said of the new players. “I’m really pleased with them. Big sort of objective for us is to try and recruit good people as well as good players, and I think we’ve done that. I think the character and the attitude that they bring will be excellent. And they’ve all worked extremely hard today. So we’re pleased with the first morning.”
Due to Orlando City B’s role in the organization, there will be a multitude of moving parts throughout the season with players being loaned down from the MLS side. Pulis said that there will be MLS players coming in, but also a number of academy products that will train and occasionally play with the USL side.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Pulis said. “Just to try and sort of manage a little bit better if I can, and I can say try to control the controllables a little bit better.”
Despite the roster currently, Pulis still has plans to sign at least another two or three players before the season begins. There are currently seven trialists that are working out with the team, such as Columbia University’s Rhys Williams and a few local Florida college products, such as Rollins College’s Tosan Popo and Alexis Martinez. Pulis believes that a few of the trialists could provide some good competition for the players currently on roster, especially as the season progresses.
As far as the season as a whole, Pulis has set the goal for the team to once again make the USL playoffs.
“I think to make the playoffs would be a realistic goal again,” he said. “We did that last year. And then obviously to try and improve every single one of our players and hopefully give them an opportunity to try and move across to the MLS team. We did that with three players last year. We’ve set ourselves a higher bar. So hopefully we can do that again. But from a team perspective, try and make playoffs. But it won’t be easy. We’re in the Eastern Conference this year that’s going to be a lot stronger. We’ve got Ottawa coming in. We’ve got Tampa Bay Rowdies coming in. We’ve got St. Louis coming in. And they’re really strong outfits. So our conference is going to be difficult this year.”
With tougher competition and an overhauled roster, it will be a challenge for Orlando City B to keep up in the USL, but a welcome challenge for Pulis and his team.