Orlando City B just completed another off weekend — its second in three weeks. With nine games played this season, it seems like a good time to look back at the beginning of the season and assess the team so far.
Earl Edwards Jr. is Making Strides by Playing
It’s commonly thought that the best way for a player to develop is to play. This can involve going out on loan or, in Orlando City’s case, playing for USL reserve side Orlando City B. Earl Edwards Jr. spent the last two seasons backing up Tally Hall and Joe Bendik after being drafted in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. With the acquisition of veteran MLS goalkeeper Josh Saunders to back up Bendik this year, Edwards has had the opportunity to join OCB and start regularly. At 25 years of age, Edwards is still a young player, especially for a goalkeeper, and has a lengthy career ahead of him.
Being stuck behind Hall and Bendik, two of the league’s best goalkeepers during their tenures, Edwards was rarely seen in net during games for the Lions, so it was unclear how he was truly developing. However, this USL season has already shown what the third-year professional can do. Other than giving up three goals to two of the league’s best teams — Louisville City FC and New York Red Bulls II — Edwards has not conceded more than two goals and has recorded clean sheets in his last three games. While Bendik has signed a three-year extension with the club, Edwards seems to be an excellent alternative if need be. Even if Bendik is the long-term answer for the Lions and Edwards’ time with the club is limited, he’s quickly raising the price the club will be able to demand for his services.
Richie Laryea Shows Offensive Prowess
Orlando City had two early first-round picks in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. With the seventh selection, the club took Canadian midfielder Richie Laryea from Akron and with the 13th pick selected Guinean forward Hadji Barry from UCF. While Barry has bounced up and down between the senior and reserve team, making an impact on both, Laryea has yet to make his senior debut.
Last season, Laryea played attacking midfield, defensive midfield, and even slid out to the right during his 23 appearances. While Laryea played well, most praise went to the left side, where teenage star Pierre Da Silva was making a name for himself with stellar play. Laryea recorded just two assists and looked a bit timid on the field. This year, Laryea has seemingly adjusted to professional play and has become a serious offensive threat. In his first seven appearances this season, Laryea has scored three times, including a brace in Bethlehem, PA. It may have taken a little longer than expected for some, but the Lions are starting to see the player they drafted so highly.
Pierre Da Silva is For Real
The breakout star for OCB last season was unquestionably left-sided midfielder Pierre Da Silva. The native of Port Chester, NY, joined the Lions’ academy from the U.S. Soccer U-17 residency program at IMG Academy. Following the 2016 season, Da Silva was signed to an MLS contract with Orlando City.
Despite being only 17 years old during the 2016 season, the U.S. U-18 international was often the best player on the field. So far in 2017, Da Silva is proving that last season was not a fluke with a goal and four assists in eight appearances. His pace and skill on the left makes him a tremendous headache for any defender and his ability to cut inside causes even more problems. Now that Orlando City has him on an MLS contract, the future looks bright for this 18-year-old, who appears to be a future star in the top league in the country.
OCB Continues Producing Players
One of the main purposes of Orlando City B is to produce players for the senior team and it’s something that the team has done well over the past two seasons. Last year, the team produced Tony Rocha and Mikey Ambrose for the MLS side and this year it is already doing the same. In March, OCB acquired defender Léo Pereira from Brazilian side Clube Atlético Paranaense, with which the Lions have a partnership. After playing just four games with OCB, Pereira was loaned to the senior team in April where he has become a regular on the team sheet. While signed to the senior team, Brazilian Victor “PC” Giro, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rowdies, is another defender that started the season at OCB but has become a key player for the Lions, recording the go-ahead assist on a nice overlapping run in San Jose Wednesday night.
Another major factor of OCB is getting academy products regular playing time prior to them being ready for the MLS level. Two such players, David Loera and Joe Gallardo, are already seeing the benefit this season. Loera is still in the academy but played a handful of games last year and has already made an appearance this year. The U.S. youth international looks like he’ll be a future star for the senior team, especially if he forgoes college and signs a Homegrown contract this summer. Gallardo is ineligible or a Homegrown contract, as he had made U.S. U-17 appearances prior to joining the academy, but is an academy product. Another potential future impact player for the Lions, the 19-year-old has made two appearances this season, bouncing between OCB and the U-17/18 academy team. These two players are the start of what is turning into a pipeline of young local talent that is flooding the club’s academy and will be coming through the ranks in the coming years.
As expected, OCB has already seen improvements from 2016, both on the field and in the development of players. That will only increase in the coming years as the reserve team produces more players for the senior team. While there have been plenty of positives already for the young Lions, there will likely be plenty more as the season progresses.