Orlando City B has now played four preseason games as the team looks ahead to the 2017 USL season. The team will see several changes from last season with some of the USL talent brought in. So, what are some of these changes and what can be expected as the 2017 season nears?
Starting at the back, the signing of Josh Saunders from New York City FC to back up Joe Bendik means that Earl Edwards Jr. will likely spend the majority of his 2017 campaign with the USL side. The 2015 draft pick spent the last two seasons with the senior team backing up Tally Hall and Bendik. Mark Ridgers went back to Scotland to join Partick Thistle following the season and will be replaced by Edwards.
Like the senior team, there will be several changes to the OCB back line this season. Mikey Ambrose played most of the 2016 season at left back but he was picked up by Atlanta United in the MLS Expansion Draft. Craig Nitti and Kyle Callan-McFadden both made their exits after just one season with the club. While Devron Garcia looks to be on his way out at Orlando City, Conor Donovan and Zach Ellis-Hayden could both continue to see significant minutes in the USL in 2017. Young USL veterans Zach Carroll and Scott Thomsen have also joined the team for the upcoming season.
While the defense will look quite different this year, the midfield will be rather similar. Lewis Neal returns as team captain with Richie Laryea and Pierre Da Silva both expected to spend most of the season at OCB — though Laryea was an unused sub for the senior club last night. Former Orlando City U-23 standout Paul Clowes has come back to the club for the 2017 season after spending much of last season with the Charlotte Independence. After playing a 4-2-3-1 for much of the 2016 season, the formation favored by former Orlando City Head Coach Adrian Heath, both the senior team and OCB will be moving to the 4-4-2 formation favored by Jason Kreis.
After a stellar season in 2016, Michael Cox returns as the team’s talisman. But with the change in formation, Cox will be playing with a partner this season. Which striker will join him depends on the senior team. Hadji Barry spent much of last season with OCB but will be looking to break into the senior team for the 2017 season. If Barry is able to solidify his spot in the MLS team, Cox will be paired with 19-year-old striker Albert Dikwa who has been impressive this preseason. The tall striker joined the club from the Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy (SIMA) in nearby Montverde, FL.
While these players look to be key this season, things could change soon. Depending on whether academy players choose to attend college or turn pro, multiple additions could be made to the team in the coming months. Some, such as David Loera, have already seen minutes with OCB and would likely slide into the lineup if they were to sign as Homegrown Players.
As the team is primarily a reserve and developmental side, OCB will have three types of players in 2017: USL players, MLS players looking to gain minutes, and academy players. Some of these academy players may be signing Homegrown contracts in the coming months while others may be brought in to experience the professional game as they continue to develop. With the changes in the team and the development of the club, 2017 will certainly be an interesting season for OCB.