Starting last year, MLS took a step forward in the development process for young prospects. The league took the connection between first division sides and their USL affiliates and reserve sides to the next level by inserting a new clause that allowed teams to utilize players signed to USL contracts for non-league competitions, strengthening clubs’ depth for midweek cup competitions and helping to bridge the gap between franchises that are technically separate entities.
The addition to the league’s roster rules and regulations, referred to as USL short term agreements, says this:
MLS clubs may sign players from their USL affiliate to Short Term Agreements (up to four-day contracts) for CONCACAF Champions League, AMWAY Canadian Championship, U.S. Open Cup, and exhibition matches. An MLS club may sign a player to a maximum of four short term agreements each season (maximum of 16 days).
Players may also be signed to Short Term Agreements for MLS league season games but only in cases of Extreme Hardship.
MLS clubs took full advantage of this new rule last year, bringing up young players on USL contracts and giving them a shot with the senior team. Orlando City exercised a short-term loan for Tony Rocha for both of its Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup games last season before Jason Kreis signed him to an MLS contract full-time in August. It’s a proving ground for OCB players who would have no other way to get game time with the senior side.
This year’s OCB side is full of talented young players with the potential to make their way in MLS some day. With Orlando’s upcoming U.S. Open Cup fixture against Miami FC on Wednesday, Kreis has an opportunity to give that talent a new opportunity. Orlando has made good use of bringing players up from the B side, with four signed in the last calendar year, and is likely to dip into the reserves again.
OCB’s match at Toronto FC II the same day complicates matters, but there is sufficient depth for the young Lions to have a replacement on hand for anyone loaned up for the USOC match from Anthony Pulis’ side. Here are three potential candidates to receive the call to the first team, if only temporarily:
Martz has locked down the right midfield job for OCB this season, appearing in all but one match this year. He puts in gritty performances week after week, using his combination of pace and strength to blow by opposing defenders in solo situations. He gets the job done on both ends of the pitch, sitting in the top 10 on the team in interceptions, tackles, duels won, and chances created.
The 25-year-old Georgetown graduate is in his third season as a professional and already has some experience abroad in the Maltese Premier League. He found success stateside with the Wilmington Hammerheads last season but signed on with OCB after the North Carolina club dropped down to the PDL.
With the first team lacking any true right-sided wingers, Martz not only has the talent, but also fills a hole on the roster. Kreis has dropped in Matias Perez Garcia, Giles Barnes, and Hadji Barry at times on that right side, but none of them truly fit the position. If the gaffer is looking for wide depth, Martz is first in line for a cameo appearance on Wednesday night.
The Cameroonian teenager has been somewhat of a revelation this year, leaping up the forward depth chart over last season’s goals leader, Michael Cox, and former first round SuperDraft pick Ben Polk. Dikwa has three goals in 12 appearances — good enough for a tie for the team lead with Richie Laryea.
Hadji Barry is still the top striker for OCB, but Dikwa has adequately led the line whenever Barry’s been away with the first team. He’s the only player to appear in every match this year for the Lions — though he’s only been handed five starts — and does a little bit of everything from the number nine position. He’s creative for a striker, with one assist from his five chances created (third-highest on the team), but it’s his natural finishing ability that really makes him stand out. His first-time finish against the Charlotte Independence is the best example of his natural abilities as a forward:
The intelligence to time his run to stay onside combined with the skill to curl the ball around the keeper should give City fans hope that his ceiling is high.
With Kreis employing a two-striker system and only having four on the senior roster, there’s potential that Dikwa could insert himself as a viable depth option. Kreis has leaned on Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas so far, with only Giles Barnes as a substitute. With Larin away with Canada and an Eastern Conference match-up against Montreal waiting at the weekend, the head coach might be looking to dip into his reserves for some firepower off the bench.
Chances are, Albert won’t be the first in line for a first team deal this season as he’s still in his first year as a pro after coming out of the local Montverde Academy. He’s gotten a few caps for Cameroon’s youth sides and earned valuable experience there, but that’s the extent of his playing time until he can assert himself into the lineup as an every-week starter. Potentially getting an opportunity against a top NASL side could help him do just that, but until then he’s still got some developing to do.
Orlando City has a wealth of young talent at center back. Jose Aja (24), Tommy Redding (20), and Leo Pereira (21) have all performed well as starters in MLS this year. Zach Carroll (23) is the next up on that list. His play has pushed second-round SuperDraft pick Conor Donvoan to the bench and, while the central defender next to him has been a revolving door of Tommy Redding, Leo Pereira, and recently Seb Hines, Carroll has been OCB’s rock at the back. He leads the team in clearances, interceptions, and aerial duels won. When Lewis Neal has been unavailable, Zach has also been handed the armband.
Carroll was a stalwart of the New York Red Bulls II side that won the USL Cup last season, earning All-USL second-team honors along the way. He has continued that form in Orlando, being a major part of the team’s three clean sheets so far.
It’s a daunting task to crack the rotation of center backs for Orlando, but if anyone is capable of doing it, it’s Carroll. With Aja and Jonathan Spector potentially being rested for the weekend and Redding just recently returning from the U-20 World Cup, there’s potential for Carroll to see the bench. With the Open Cup’s tighter restrictions on international players compared to MLS, chances are some of the normal members of the match-day squad could be dropped for American counterparts; Carroll stands to be a beneficiary of that.
If any of these three aren’t called up, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a chance to break into the first team roster this year. Kreis signed Mikey Ambrose from OCB at the same time as Rocha, showing that he’s watching the reserve side for talented players either way. But if Orlando is set to experiment with some of its younger talent, these three names are ones to look out for.