JACKSONVILLE, FL — There are only a handful of players left on Orlando City’s roster that were on the field for the club’s inaugural MLS match on March 8, 2015. Josh Saunders is one of those guys. Except here’s the thing: he was starting in goal for the opposing side, New York City FC.
Now, two years later, Saunders is a member of Orlando City and will be suiting up for the Lions in their season opener, again, against NYCFC at the club’s brand new downtown stadium.
The Lions quickly jumped on the opportunity to bring in Saunders a day after sending goalkeeper Patrick McLain, along with Kevin Molino, to Minnesota United FC last week in exchange for a record-tying amount of allocation money.
Saunders, who fell out of favor at NYCFC, was the club’s starting goalkeeper for most of its first two seasons, before being relegated to the bench late in the year, including the playoffs. New York City then acquired goalkeeper Sean Johnson from Atlanta early in the off-season, all but sealing the soon-to-be 36-year-old’s fate at the club.
“I was excited [to be traded to Orlando],” Saunders said at training on Wednesday. “It was something that I definitely wanted. Just the opportunity to play again and be with a good team and coaching staff.”
The three-time MLS Cup champion rejoins Jason Kreis, who brought Saunders to NYCFC in the summer of 2014 before his 2015 season where he led the league in saves. Saunders looks forward to working with Kreis yet again and repeat the success he had under him in New York.
“Very good,” Saunders said regarding the two’s working relationship. “I understand what they want, and I work really well with him.”
Saunders, of course, was also there to witness firsthand the struggles that NYCFC endured over the course of the club’s first season, including management’s decision to fire Kreis, which the goalkeeper saw as an unfair situation for the now-Orlando City gaffer.
“I was disappointed with what happened in New York because we had like half of our team given to us in July, so we were given a little bit of an unfair shake for the first portion of the season,” Saunders said. “But at the same time that’s sports, and now we’re in a good opportunity here.”
And they are.
Saunders will likely serve as the backup to Joe Bendik, who was among the top goalkeepers in MLS in 2016. But regardless of his role, which he said was not defined by Kreis, Saunders just wants to “help the team get better in any way possible.”