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2017 USL Preview: Orlando City B

After barely making the playoffs in 2016, can OCB return to the postseason after the off-season rebuild?

Matt Starkey, The Mane Land

Welcome to The Mane Land’s 2017 USL preview for Orlando City B. To learn more about the other teams in the league, visit SB Nation’s USL Preview hub. Now, on to the OCB preview:

Year Founded: 2016.

Affiliation: Orlando City.

2016 record, place in Conference standings: 9-13-8, 35 points — eighth place in the Eastern Conference.

2016 playoffs: Conference Quarterfinals.

Key additions: Joe Gallardo, Ben Polk, Zach Carroll.

Key departures: Devron Garcia, Jonathan Mendoza, Pierre Da Silva (signed to MLS), Mikey Ambrose, Tony Rocha.

Projected/ideal starting XI (4-4-2): Earl Edwards Jr.; Zach Ellis-Hayden, Zach Carroll, Conor Donovan, Scott Thomsen; Lewis Neal, Richie Laryea, Paul Clowes, Pierre Da Silva; Michael Cox, Ben Polk.

The 2016 USL season was the first in the existence of Orlando City B. The reserve team for MLS’ Orlando City attempted to mix good, young talent with veterans who knew the culture of the club. The leaders of the team were Lewis Neal and Jonathan Mendoza, both of whom played for Orlando City during the team’s days in the USL before the jump to MLS. The Lions spent most of the season yo-yoing above and below the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

In 2016, OCB struggled with consistency and only won twice in a row on two occasions. In early August, the Lions looked bound for a playoff spot before gaining only one point in their next eight games down the stretch. It took a final day 2-0 win over Bethlehem Steel to secure the final playoff spot in the East. However, Anthony Pulis’ squad wouldn’t be celebrating for long, as its playoff run ended quickly, getting trounced 4-0 by eventual league champions New York Red Bulls II.

As a reserve team, the 2016 season was quite successful. Teenage midfielder Pierre Da Silva, an academy product, became a breakout star and signed an MLS deal during this past off-season with the senior team. During the 2016 season, left back Mikey Ambrose and midfielder Tony Rocha signed MLS contracts with Orlando City, making an impact for the senior side late in the year. Rocha remains with the senior team, while Ambrose moved to Atlanta United in the off-season.

Jake Fenlason, Lewis Neal, Michael Cox, and Zach Ellis-Hayden are the only players on the 2016 roster that are still on the OCB roster, but Richie Laryea, Da Silva, and Donovan will be loaned down to the young Lions for the majority of the season as well. Additionally, look for Jason Kreis to use OCB to get minutes for first-team bench players, such as Victor “PC” Giro, Rocha, and others.

With a complete makeover from 2016, can Pulis put together another playoff team in Year 2? He spoke with The Mane Land about the challenges of the upcoming season on this week’s PawedCast.

Why You Should Watch OCB in 2017:

Many of the players on this team will use their time with OCB as a stepping stool to earn a spot on the Orlando City roster. If you are an MLS fan, these are the players of the future. But OCB is much more than Orlando City’s reserve team. Pulis creates the new-look OCB team, and has designs on turning a collection of Orlando City prospects into a USL playoff team. The young Lions have hurdles to jump through — such as the constant player movement from the MLS side and only four players from the 2016 roster — but are already playing entertaining and quality soccer through the preseason. Fans will also want to keep an eye on OCB to see which academy prospects earn spots in the game day lineup in 2017.

Three Players to Watch:

Earl Edwards Jr: This is an important year in Edwards’ career trajectory. Drafted by Orlando City in the third round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft, Edwards Jr. has yet to see any MLS minutes. He has played in a handful of friendlies and in the U.S. Open Cup, but the San Diego native needs playing time to grow. With that in mind, Orlando City signed Josh Saunders to back up Joe Bendik, freeing up Edwards to become OCB’s starting keeper.

Michael Cox: After leading OCB in just about every offensive statistical category in 2016, Cox is one of the few players that remained with the team. With the added support of moving to a two-striker system, some weight is lifted from Cox’s shoulders, but OCB is looking for his clinical finishing in 2017.

Pierre Da Silva: Da Silva had a breakout year in 2016 and became the first player to go through the entire Orlando City development process — academy, OCB, and Orlando City. Although officially on Orlando City’s MLS roster, Da Silva will be loaned to Pulis’ squad for the majority of the season and will look to add on his two-goal, five-assist 2016 season in 2017.

The 2017 Season Will be a Success If...

With an almost entirely new roster, OCB will certainly have some growing pains, however the young Lions will need to come together quickly to make the playoffs in back-to-back years. Look for individual players to progress and gain experience, and the team to be a competitive force in the Eastern Conference. If the club wins more than it loses, helps develop young players for the MLS side, and provides competitive minutes for senior team bench players, it will be deemed successful by the club, even if fans tend to measure success by postseason accomplishments.

Read More:

Orlando City B’s Key Matches in 2017

A Look at Orlando City B’s Roster in 2017

2017 Could Be Key Year for Orlando City B

Anthony Pulis and Orlando City B Ready to Make a Run at a Successful Second Season

What’s in Store for Orlando City B in 2017?