Orlando City SC’s best-ever start to the Major League Soccer season leaves no room for questions: the Lions’ roster was built to win now. However, at the same time that the club has put together a competitive squad, it has also assembled a promising young core that could keep the team competitive for years to come.
Building for the future has been a mantra for the Lions since they arrived in MLS as the club quickly spent two Designated Player spots with Carlos Rivas and Bryan Rochez, who left the club earlier this season.
In 2017, though, a good share of the team’s players are in their early 20s, making clear that the club’s long-term aspirations were not left behind after two years of not making the playoffs. Orlando City has the 10th youngest roster in the League, averaging 25.93 years.
Starting from the goalkeeper position, Joe Bendik is 27 and could have his best years yet to come. Considering the longevity keepers usually experience, it’s fair to say that Bendik could play at a high level for at least six more seasons. The same cannot be said about 36-year-old Josh Saunders, but Earl Edwards Jr., at 25, still has a lot of upside -- as evidenced by a hot start to the USL season — and could easily become a solid backup.
Moving to the fullbacks, 30-year-old Scott Sutter is the oldest player in the position. Considering his recent injury history, Kevin Alston, at 28, is also a long shot. On the other hand, Donny Toia (24), one of the team’s most solid players so far, still has a long way to go, as well as Portuguese Rafael Ramos (22) and Brazilian Victor “PC” Giro (23).
Among the center backs, 31-year-old Jonathan Spector, who solidified the Lions’ back line, should have only a few more good years until he starts declining. Youngsters José Aja (23), Leo Pereira (21), and Tommy Redding (20), though, are still in development and could join forces to compose a solid rotation in the future, with Conor Donovan and Zach Carroll potentially joining the first team later. Often-injured Seb Hines is 28, but his health is a big question mark.
Midfield is Orlando’s oldest area of the team, as Kaká (35), Antonio Nocerino (32), Matías Pérez García (32) and Will Johnson (30) are all on the wrong side of 30. Giles Barnes is 28, but he has a lot of mileage on his body, which makes his long-term future unsure. Servando Carrasco, also 28, is probably in a better situation.
The list of young talent in the Lions’ midfield starts with 23-year-old defensive midfielder Cristian Higuita, who is already a valuable player on Orlando’s roster. Luis Gil is also 23, but is on a loan contract, which makes his long-term stay a little more complicated. The Lions also have some talented players who could develop into starting level in the upcoming years, such as Richie Laryea (22), Pierre Da Silva (18), and Tony Rocha (23).
On the offensive side, the Lions look to be in good shape with starters Cyle Larin (22) and Carlos Rivas (23) both showing impressive progress in 2017, although Larin’s European prospects look to be a matter of when, not if. Backups Hadji Barry (24), Moussa Sane (20) and Danny Deakin (23) are also young and still have a lot of room to improve and could become, at least, serviceable players.
It’s obviously unrealistic to believe that Orlando City will be able to keep all these players on its roster for several years, or that all will develop into top-notch first teamers, but it’s promising to notice that the team has a foundation that might guarantee a strong squad for quite some time.