The purpose of Orlando City B is to develop players for the first team. The first player to develop from the academy via OCB to an MLS contract is teenage midfielder Pierre Da Silva, and he may play regularly for the first team sooner than you think.
For those of you who haven’t been watching OCB, you’re missing a future star. At just 19 years of age, Da Silva has regularly been the best player on the field in nearly every USL game he’s played this year. That continued Saturday night in Richmond when his slick moves lost Samuel Asante, allowing him to set up Hadji Barry for the game’s lone goal. Later, he hit the crossbar with a deft touch and was unlucky not to score.
So, what do you do with a young player that is too good for USL, but not yet ready for MLS? With the Lions still fighting for a playoff spot, it’s obviously too early to give a player that’s only accumulated one minute in MLS meaningful minutes in league games. But with the struggles that the Lions have suffered recently, that could soon change.
If the first team’s struggles continue and it is eliminated from a playoff spot, it would be a good time to look to the future. Da Silva looks as though he could be ready to make a significant impact for the first team as early as next year so the final stages of this season might be the time to integrate him into the team. Having him see some significant minutes late this season would get him used to the increased pace and skill level of MLS prior to the start of next season.
There’s no question the Lions are waiting for Da Silva to be ready. Of all the positions that Orlando City has been lacking, the left side of the midfield is certainly up there. This season, the team has often played Kaká or Cristian Higuita in that position. Kaká has played out there multiple times over the past three years, but with his injuries, play, and age, this is likely his last season in the City Beautiful. When Kaká hasn’t played on the left, Higuita often has this year. But Higuita isn’t even an attacking player, with his natural position being defensive midfield.
Da Silva was primarily listed as a forward as a youth player but began to play exclusively on the left wing in his debut season for OCB. It was soon after the start of the season when his quality began to show. After about a month, Da Silva was putting together man-of-the-match performances weekly as just an 18-year-old playing his first professional season.
Da Silva joined the Orlando City Development Academy from the United States Residency Program at the IMG Academy in Bradenton. As he had already made his debut for the U.S. U-17 National Team, he was ineligible for a Homegrown contract with Orlando City. The Lions looked for a way to sign their academy product to a Homegrown deal but were unsuccessful. He ended up signing a contract with the first team and made his MLS debut as a last-minute substitute on March 18 against the Philadelphia Union.
At the ripe age of 19 years, it was the right decision for Orlando City to take its time with its young starlet. The team didn’t want to risk moving him up to play in MLS games too early, potentially wrecking his confidence. For as good as Da Silva was last season, he’s been even better this year, toying with opposing defenders and showing that he’s far above the level of the USL.
While there are other positions that Orlando City is in need of filling, Da Silva is the only player ready to make that leap. Other teenagers who are graduating out of the academy and could eventually end up with the senior team include Joe Gallardo, David Loera, Raul Aguilera, Jack McCloskey, Landen Haig, and David Norris. But of that group, only Joe Gallardo is signed to OCB with the others starting their freshman college seasons this month.
If Orlando City’s poor form continues and it ends up being eliminated from playoff contention, it will be time to look to the future. Age may be driving some players out at the end of the season and others, like Cyle Larin, may be moving on. One young player that can gain the necessary experience to play an integral part in the team next season is Da Silva. If his play for OCB this season is any indication, he’s ready for the challenge.