It’s going to be an interesting back half of the month of June for Orlando City. After having 10 days off for the first time since April, they have another gauntlet to run. There will be plenty of action for everyone on the roster, but especially for young forward Hadji Barry. The UCF alum is a year and a half removed from Orlando trading back into the first round of the 2016 SuperDraft to take him 13th overall and now he’ll likely have his first extended run of games since trading his black and gold kits for purple ones.
He’s made his living with Orlando City B as a professional, but even that has been sporadic. He’s been in that nebulous zone of potentially good enough to provide something off the bench and not being one of the top offensive options. In his rookie season he was nearly anonymous, even after earning an assist in his debut, making just eight first-team appearances and never finishing any of his four starts.
But Hadji seems to have taken the next step in his USL development in 2017, tallying three goals and an assist in five appearances with Orlando City B this season. The Guinean has been yo-yoing back and forth from the first-team bench to the OCB starting lineup, which has meant inconsistent playing time. He’s still managed to make the most of his chances, generally performing at a level above the competition. His skill on the ball has consistently made defenders miss and his combination of that with his speed has made him deadly at that level.
It hasn’t meant more playing time in MLS — he tallied just his fourth competitive appearance and first start with the first team this year in the team’s loss to Miami FC on Wednesday in the U.S. Open Cup. That’s likely to change in the coming weeks as long as Jason Kreis sticks with a two-striker system. Orlando has a slew of five games in the two and a half weeks until the league breaks for the Gold Cup in another run of matches with a lot of travel and little rest. With Cyle Larin out of commission until he completes the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program and likely to miss most — if not all — of those matches, forward depth has become shockingly thin even with a single striker lineup.
Barry got his best chance of the year in the U.S. Open Cup loss but he rarely got the service he needed. When he did, he looked dangerous but, like most of the offense for the majority of the match, there was no end product in the final third. Hadji’s minimal minutes with the first team haven’t seen him put it all together at the MLS level yet, which can be concerning, but his opportunities have been few and far between. Having Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas in front of him on the depth chart meant breaking in would be difficult, but even with Kreis employing two strikers Barry has only seen 11 minutes of league action this year. That’s going to have to change, for better or worse, in the coming weeks. With Larin out and Giles Barnes not living up to his salary level, the pressure is on for one of Orlando’s forwards to step up.
It’s not going to be an easy task for the 24-year-old with so few MLS minutes under his belt, but Orlando is in dire need of help at the forward spot. Now, due to necessity, Hadji will need to step up and prove that he’s worthy of bench time on this roster. With the summer transfer window looming, it could be time to prove that he’s up to the task or the Lions will be forced to find help elsewhere.