Well, it is official. What was looking more and more likely the longer there was no replacement for Anthony Pulis has happened, as Orlando City has announced it has decided to forgo the 2018 USL season while it evaluates the future of the minor league piece of its pyramid.
The club’s announcement was short and left more questions than it answered.
Orlando City B has elected to not participate in the upcoming United Soccer League (USL) Division II season. The Club will continue its discussions with USL to evaluate its options for future participation in the league.
Meanwhile, the USL dropped it’s conference alignment for 2018 and it was very notable that OCB was missing.
If you've been paying attention to the signs, this shouldn’t come as a shock. The first domino to fall was the that the club announced it had released all but four players at the end of the season. In actuality, only one player — Ryley Kraft — remained under contract according to an interview by GM Niki Budalic.
The next major signal came when highly regarded coach Anthony Pulis signed with Saint Louis FC on Nov. 20. The loss of a rising star in the coaching ranks left many to wonder what the club was doing, considering Ant had done a fantastic job despite a myriad of issues.
With rumblings of an imminent USL schedule release and still no coach or player signings at OCB, it became clear OCB wasn't likely to be fielding a team. The interesting part about all this was Orlando City’s earlier talking point that the club remained committed to OCB and the USL for 2018 and had no plans to sit out. As reported by then-Orlando Sentinel beat writer Alicia DelGallo — now the editor for ProSoccerUSA.com — at the time of all the roster cuts:
Club spokesman told me Orlando City B will play next year. Also writing an OCB column today with some other info, will be up later.— Alicia Rose DelGallo (@OSAliciaD) October 18, 2017
This messaging hadn't changed from the time of the cuts and, additionally, Orlando City had promised all 2018 season ticket holders the benefit of getting access to OCB games with their paid MLS season tickets. Now it seems clear the full message wasn't being given to Alicia or anyone else asking questions.
Shortly after today’s announcement, the OCB benefit was replaced on the club’s website with four complimentary tickets to see the Orlando Pride.
While the club is still determining what this benefit will look like due to the NWSL schedule not yet released, here’s what we know based on a call to the club’s ticketing department:
- There will be a list of matches available to all season ticket holders. At this time it sounds like it’ll be a spread of limited matches and all 12 will not be open, but that could change.
- Following former promotional matches (i.e., the OCB/Pride pairing last year), the tickets could be done in a section-oriented fashion where you select your seats from a variety of sections in a first-come, first-served manner, with no assigned seating within those sections.
Again this is just preliminary information and could change.
What we dont know is what the plans are for the future of the minor league piece in the club’s pyramid. This is concerning when paired with the recent announcement of the movement of the Orlando City Development Academy to Montverde Academy. Contraction rather than expansion usually rings alarm bells. Outsourcing the academy, even if there is an added benefit in recruiting resources, is concerning.
It’s quite possible that OCB will return in USL’s Division 3 league in 2019, as there has been much discussion over the past year of MLS 2 teams’ place in the growing USL, which has designs on becoming the world’s premier Division 2 league.
There is no current information available on what the club will do with Kraft or other players who will need playing time to stay sharp, whether from a lack of first-team minutes — Pierre Da Silva leaps to mind —or when returning from injury.
What we do know is there is no OCB, and now the club is missing a very valuable piece in development looking into the long term. None of this is likely to make fans feel great about the long-term vision of the organization.