There are plenty of positives for an MLS club operating its own USL team. For Orlando City, it hasn’t only been about providing playing time for top prospects and raw talents. There’s a tune-up factor for those that haven’t seen the field in a while as well.
All of Orlando City B’s uses and facets will be on display over the next month as the first team gears up for a stretch of eight matches in just under five weeks, starting with the Colorado Rapids on Saturday and ending with D.C. United on May 31. The Lions will need all hands on deck if they want to pull as many points as possible from the fixtures as the matches come thick and fast.
It helps that Orlando is getting healthier at the right time, with Kaká, Jose Aja, Rafael Ramos, Seb Hines, and Tony Rocha folding back into the mix. But there is a process between being healthy and being ready for MLS action. Hines made an appearance for OCB last night, incrementally getting his fitness back after missing so many weeks out with his knee injury. Rocha has already made a handful of recent appearances as he works his way back into the swing of things after suffering a hamstring injury in the preseason. It’s important to use OCB as a rehabilitative environment, giving players live game action that doesn’t affect the MLS standings if they have a misstep.
The ability to slowly work in playing time in a controlled, yet competitive environment should result in players performing at a higher level upon their return to the first team. So, if Hines or Ramos or Rocha are called upon during the obstacle course that is the month of May, they will still have professional minutes under their belts.
But the handful of matches given to first team regulars on their way back to full health is only a small piece of the puzzle that will help over the course of the next month. With over a year to prepare and develop in the USL, the potential benefits could start bearing fruit.
Richie Laryea and Hadji Barry, Orlando’s two first-round draft picks in 2016, have been taking advantage of their time with OCB. Laryea managed to bag the first two goals of his professional career against Bethlehem Steel last weekend and he is tied for second on the team in chances created with five. The Canadian has been deployed as the secondary striker and has done well to connect the lines; the strides he has made in his game even from last season are evident.
Barry has been the same, though he has been more involved with the first team and has seen limited action with OCB. Jason Kreis has already handed the UCF product some appearances at the top level and he has taken his chances in the USL. Barry looked a level above against Toronto FC II, scoring a goal and almost snatching a few more through sheer willpower.
But the biggest success OCB could have is if academy product Pierre Da Silva can get extended action in MLS. His debut was short-lived in the Lions’ win over Philadelphia, but he has built on a strong debut season last year with a hot start in 2017 as he leads the USL in assists, with four. Da Silva is the physical link from the development academy to the first team and having him succeed speaks volumes for what the club can accomplish. This stretch is an opportunity for him to prove that he is capable of MLS minutes after doing so well in the USL. Pierre is the physical representation of the goals the club set out to achieve with OCB; it’s nearly time to put him to the real test.
Kreis is going to dig to the deepest parts of the roster to find fresh legs with such little time in between matches. Luckily with OCB, when he does call they’ll be sharp.