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The Missing Piece of Orlando City’s Puzzle

The 2017 MLS preseason is underway and the Orlando City roster is near completion. But what is the missing piece of the puzzle for the Lions?

Jorge Gallardo, The Mane Land

Over the past few years, Orlando City Soccer Club has changed. A lot. In fact, from the USL days, Rafael Ramos and Tommy Redding are the only two players still on the senior team. In addition, the organization’s president stepped down, the first head coach was fired, and various other front office staff, coaches, and players went in other directions.

And yet, as Orlando City heads into its third MLS season, the team is looking better than ever. Its offense may become the best in the league with Cyle Larin and Kaká both hungry for more team goals. The midfield is one of the deepest in the league, and its defensive woes should be at an end after a complete makeover. Also, the added goalkeeper competition means Joe Bendik will have an even better 2017 season.

After missing out on the playoffs by a combined total of eight points in its first two MLS seasons, there is much to look forward to in 2017 for the Lions. Head Coach Jason Kreis has filled most of the holes this off-season, adding key pieces like Will Johnson, Jonathan Spector, and Josh Saunders, but there are still holes in the puzzle that need to be filled in.

The first is a veteran striker, or at the very least, striker depth. As of right now, Larin does not have a backup, and as Kreis may send his team out in a 4-4-2 on March 5, striker depth is much needed. Additionally, Kreis is adamant about having depth at every position to keep the competition level high in training. Currently, Kaká is the most likely candidate to both back up and partner with Larin up top, but that is definitely not enough. Carlos Rivas is also a possibility, as he showed some flashes last year at the forward position, particularly against Montreal.

The other two players on Orlando City’s roster that could back up Larin are 2016 13th overall SuperDraft pick Hadji Barry, and 2017 draft pick Danny Deakin. Both players will need to play lights out in preseason to have a chance at being in the 18 for March 5. While Deakin will most likely be loaned out to OCB, Barry may have a shot. He will definitely be looking forward to making the best of the opportunity, but he is a long shot.

Orlando’s next biggest piece is not one player, but three - forward and DP Bryan Rochez, defender David Mateos, and midfielder Devron Garcia. All three players are still rostered, but Kreis told them “there wasn’t really a future for them in [the] club.” They are taking up three international spots, a Designated Player spot, and possibly more than $780,000 in cap space. If Brek Shea fails to start this year due to poor play and a deep midfield, the dead salary moves up to over $1.3 million. With that much money, Orlando City could afford two-time MLS Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips, USMNT member Benny Feilhaber, 2016 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake, and 2016 Rookie of the Year runner-up Keegan Rosenberry. Rochez, Mateos, and Garcia need to be moved away from the club by the end of preseason to free up the cap space and enable the team to make changes come July.

At this point those are the only big holes Orlando City still has. Once the summer transfer window opens up, Orlando City will make more moves, but at this point the team is on track to make a playoff run, and these missing pieces will not hold them back from it.