Orlando City B recently went on a run of 12 games unbeaten, a record for the club’s reserve team playing its second year in the USL. As the playoffs approach, the team has seen several key players depart for the first team, damaging its chances of clinching a playoff spot.
While OCB has acquired some good USL players, the core of the team is still built around players on MLS contracts. Earl Edwards, Jr., Seb Hines, Conor Donovan, Pierre Da Silva, and Hadji Barry have all been integral in getting the young Lions towards a playoff position for a second straight season. But injuries to first-team players has had a negative effect on OCB at the wrong time.
The two most important players that OCB has lost are Edwards and Barry. The club acquired Josh Saunders specifically so Edwards, who spent the last two years as a backup to Tally Hall and Joe Bendik, could see regular playing time in a competitive environment. The third-year professional has been tremendous this season, accumulating 75 saves, nine clean sheets, and conceding just 20 goals in 22 appearances this season.
After midfielder Richie Laryea got the call-up to the senior team early in the season, Barry became the go-to player for the Lions’ attack. He’s scored eight goals in just 14 appearances — five more than anybody else on the team. The next closest players still with the reserve side are strikers Albert Dikwa, who’s scored three goals in 22 appearances, and Michael Cox, whose two against Louisville City are the lone two goals he’s scored in 13 appearances.
When it was announced Saunders would be out for the remainder of the year with a neck injury in late August, the obvious replacement was Edwards. That departure was devastating for the team. For a side that relies on solid goalkeeping, backup Jake Fenlason had only played two games in 2016 and had yet to play a game in 2017 at the time Edwards was recalled. Academy product Mason Stajduhar was still working on returning to action from a quad injury. That’s less than an ideal situation.
Led by Cox’s brace in Louisville, the young Lions did gain four points from the first two games without Edwards, but have fallen 2-0 in their two most recent games. Edwards will not be returning for OCB this season. Barry and Laryea, the team’s biggest offensive threats this season, will probably not be seen often, if at all, for OCB as the season winds down.
The 12-game unbeaten streak by OCB, which included four wins and eight draws, had pushed the young Lions from out of the playoffs up the table and into a secure position. But with the key absences of Edwards, Barry, and Hines, the Lions have fallen back down to eighth, the final playoff position, and are a mere one point above Bethlehem Steel and the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. They have four games remaining, three of which are at home, but three are against teams above them in the standings.
As an MLS reserve team, there is bound to be fluctuation in the roster with key players moving between the reserve team and the senior team. For OCB, several key players have moved up to the senior team and at the worst time possible. But, such is life for an MLS-owned team in the USL.