Orlando City’s midfield has already undergone a major overhaul this off-season and it might not be over. After losing Kaká, General Manager Niki Budalic and Head Coach Jason Kreis have been hard at work trying to rectify the lack of creativity that often doomed the Lions’ offensive prospects in 2017.
The front office made a huge splash bringing the league’s assist leader to Central Florida in snatching Sacha Kljestan from the New York Red Bulls. Orlando then added some creative insurance this week, signing Paraguayan play-maker Josué Colmán to a long-term deal that will make the 19-year-old a Young Designated Player. And even behind all of the high-profile moves, the Lions scooped up Jose Villarreal from the Los Angeles Galaxy for the low cost of a 2019 third-round SuperDraft pick, offering him a change of scenery and another chance to realize his potential.
And if you thought three new creative midfielders was enough, you might be wrong. Over the weekend, Paul Tenorio reported that Orlando and the Chicago Fire have agreed a deal that would bring collegiate superstar Cam Lindley’s rights to Orlando City Stadium.
As I just reported on my Periscope: Sources tell me Chicago Fire have agreed in principle to a trade sending HG rights for Cam Lindley to Orlando City in exchange for Rafa Ramos and allocation money. #MLS #OCSC #cf97— Paul Tenorio (@PaulTenorio) January 13, 2018
On the surface, this looks like a great trade for Orlando. While Ramos has plenty of upside, Orlando’s trade for RJ Allen crowded the depth chart at right back. And after shipping Tommy Redding to New York in the Kljestan trade, City’s roster had a stark lack of Homegrown talent. Bringing in Lindley alleviates both of those issues. The only trouble is that there’s no guarantee Lindley will sign to play in MLS.
There has been a lot of speculation swirling around Lindley about a potential move to Europe after two years of rejecting Homegrown contracts from the Fire. The Carmel, IN native has taken the college game by storm, collecting accolades on the national and conference level. Both TopDrawerSoccer.com and the ACC named him their Freshman of the Year in 2016 when he racked up seven assists for North Carolina and he followed that up with a smashing sophomore season that saw him bag seven goals and finish second in the conference with 13 assists, one behind eventual MAC Hermann Trophy winner Jon Bakero at Wake Forest. Had Lindley been eligible for this year’s SuperDraft, he’d be in contention for the top overall pick (if not the consensus) and asked to contribute heavily in his rookie season.
So naturally there is some speculation that one of the best collegiate players that is excelling in the most competitive college conference could potentially make the jump over the pond.
But if the Lions can convince Lindley to stay stateside, they’ll add yet another dynamic creative player to an already intriguing midfield lineup. Orlando seems to have a theme in mind, bringing in technically sound players capable of holding the ball as well as combining with teammates, and Cam fits the bill perfectly. The Lions lacked a like-for-like replacement for Kaká’s play style and they have remedied that in spades; City would never be lacking a creator to spark the offense.
Lindley has superb vision and has proven that he can weight a pass perfectly to set up his teammates. He did it all for the Tar Heels from pinpoint set piece delivery to flicks over the back line to spring the UNC forwards. He also adds something that Kljestan and Colmán don’t necessarily bring to the table with his ability to finish:
And that scoring touch could be something the Lions could desperately need with a midfield that does not have a history of contributing goals. Kljestan, Colmán, Villarreal, and even Yoshimar Yotún have all proven that they can be above average creators at the professional level. But Orlando needs someone to put those balls in the back of the net and if Lindley can provide even a handful in 2018, it could make a difference in where Orlando finishes in the Eastern Conference.
It’s important to remember that Lindley would still be making the jump from the college ranks to MLS and it is never a guarantee that a player can translate his skills from one level to the next. But if there are a handful of players more likely to make a successful transition than others, Lindley is a member of that group. His ceiling is incredibly high and while he might not be an impact player his rookie year in City’s crowded midfield, he can be an explosive force off the bench in 2018.
There is still the hurdle of convincing him to suit up in MLS, which Chicago has failed to do for the last two off-seasons. But if his sister Cassidy — a Florida Gator commit and talented player in her own right — knows something the rest of us don’t, things are looking good for the Lions.