MLS announced the 2018 Generation Adidas class Friday which consists of Michigan’s Francis Atuahene, Akron’s Joao Moutinho (not that one), Wake Forest’s Ema Twumasi, Indiana’s Mason Toye, Syracuse’s Mo Adams, and Maryland’s Gordon Wild. With the MLS announcement, it seems like a good time to go back and look at Orlando City’s Generation Adidas players and see how they’ve fared.
Generation Adidas was launched in 1997, then known as Project 40 and affiliated with Nike, as a way to bring the best young players into the league and improve the U.S. National Team’s player pool. In 2005, MLS formed a partnership with Adidas and renamed the program. Since 2003, every number one pick in the MLS SuperDraft has been a Generation Adidas player. The advantage of signing these players is that they don’t count against the salary budget for MLS team’s until they “graduate,” which usually means they have become regular starters for the first team.
With their ascension into MLS for the 2015 season, Orlando City has taken part in the MLS SuperDraft three times, giving the team the opportunity to select these players. Having the first selection in the 2015 draft and failing to make the playoffs in the following two seasons has given the club a good opportunity to select one of these elite college products.
The Lions went after Generation Adidas players early, selecting a pair with their first two picks ever in 2015. The first, and most successful, selection by Orlando City was Cyle Larin out of the University of Connecticut. A Brampton, Ontario native, Larin found himself at UConn and immediately made an impact. In his freshman year, he started 22 of the team’s 23 games, playing 1,721 minutes. His team-leading 14 goals saw him named the American Athletic Conference’s Rookie of the Year and he was named Freshman of the Year by TopDrawerSoccer.com. While his numbers were down during his sophomore season, scoring nine goals in 16 games, he was named the American Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year and was named All-Conference First Team, leading to his selection as a Generation Adidas player.
Larin had a tremendous rookie season for the Lions, scoring 17 goals in 27 appearances. His goal tally was the most by any rookie in MLS history and saw him win the league’s Rookie of the Year award. Despite more appearances and more minutes, Larin’s contributions have declined over the past two seasons, although he was still the team’s leading goal scorer each of the club’s years in MLS. He was an MLS All-Star in 2016 and his play has led to interest overseas, meaning he’ll soon be on his way out.
The second Generation Adidas player selected by the Lions was predicted to be a first-round pick but slipped into the second round, allowing the team to make the selection. Conor Donovan starred at center back for North Carolina State University in his one season at the school in 2014. He was then selected by the Lions with the 22nd overall pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft. While it took a while for Donovan to get on the field, he finally did on Aug. 8 against the Philadelphia Union. However, he tore his ACL in his left knee just 14 minutes into his debut. The past two seasons he’s played with Orlando City B and his option was declined following the 2017 season. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be back.
A player we know will return to the Lions in 2018 is one who broke out this past season. Canadian Richie Laryea began attending the University of Akron in 2014, where he started all 20 games for the Zips. His play earned him a second-team All-Mid-American Conference nod as a freshman. His breakout season came a year later, when the sophomore started all 22 games and led the team in goals with 11. He earned himself third-team All-American honors and was named to the All-Mid-American Conference first team. He was selected by Orlando City with the seventh overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft.
Laryea spent the 2016 season with Orlando City B, which proved to be a great preparation year for the young player. He got off to a stellar start in 2017, scoring three goals and accumulating two assists before being called up to the first team where he’d spend the remainder of the season. He ended up playing in 12 games for the first team, starting one, and recording an assist in 250 minutes. If Laryea continues his current trajectory during 2018, we could see him become a key player by the end of the season for the Lions.
Like any sport, it’s impossible to predict how good a player will be in MLS coming out of high school. However, Generation Adidas attempts to make that prediction by offering the best collegiate players special MLS contracts. While Orlando City has yet to select a long-term star from the list of Generation Adidas players, the Lions will have another chance on Jan. 19 when they pick sixth in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft.