Almost a month ago, the USL announced that Orlando City B, Orlando City’s reserve team, would be returning and playing in the new third division. It was also announced that the team will play at Montverde Academy, home of the Orlando City Development Academy. Given what the club has planned for the team, it’s a decision that comes with multiple advantages.
Since the founding of OCB, the team has had a nomadic existence. The inaugural season for the team in 2016 saw the home games take place in Melbourne at Titan Soccer Complex on the campus of Eastern Florida State College. The following season, the young Lions joined the first team and the Pride at the newly opened Orlando City Stadium. After taking the 2018 season off, the team will now move to Montverde Academy, where it will play in 2019.
Playing in Melbourne was troublesome for OCB for a couple of reasons. Taking a trip to each home game, which was done by bus from Orlando, took about an hour. Additionally, the club rented the stadium, the home of Eastern Florida State’s men’s and women’s soccer teams, which created an added expense.
For these reasons, the club decided that the 2017 USL season would take place at Orlando City Stadium. However, this move created some additional challenges as well. With the senior Lions and Pride playing all of their home games at the stadium, the field took quite a beating during the season. Being a reserve team, the young Lions were never going to draw big crowds. Only averaging a little over 1,000 fans per game, playing in a 25,527-seat stadium made the small crowds look even smaller.
While the team continues to migrate further and further west as the years advance, Montverde Academy seems to be the best place for the team to play, especially considering the team’s plan for 2019 and beyond. OCB’s rosters in 2016 and 2017 primarily consisted of first-team players not receiving minutes and players signed solely to the USL side. That differs from the 2019 roster, which the club has stated will consist primarily of Homegrown talent.
Given that the development academy is based in Montverde, hosting OCB games on the campus allows the club to keep all development at the same place. Rather than having kids of 22 or 23 years of age, the roster will primarily be made up of younger players, some of which are still in the academy. Keeping the academy and OCB together makes things easier for those running the club’s development.
Another advantage of having OCB play at Montverde Academy is the ability to promote the club to another area. With games played just west of Orlando, residents in that area who aren’t able to attend Orlando City games will be able to see the developmental side play. It will also provide an opportunity for those who work downtown and are not looking to fight the traffic on the weekends or to turn around and head back into town for midweek games.
Some might argue that OCB played in Melbourne in 2016 and attendances were very similar to playing downtown. But the club did very little to market the team in either location. You’d imagine that, much like what happened with the Pride late in the 2018 season, the club would learn from its mistakes and promote the team better west of Orlando.
Some clubs attempt to fool their fans into thinking that the reserve side is more than just a developmental team. Teams like the Philadelphia Union gave the team a different name in this attempt, in their case calling it the Bethlehem Steel. Despite these tricks, fans understand what these teams are and their purpose, which is why attendances are low. Playing in a big stadium can make the crowds seem smaller and the atmosphere worse. By moving to a smaller venue and understanding that the crowds will be smaller, the stadium will be fuller and will offer a better atmosphere for the players to experience.
When OCB takes the field in 2019, it will be very different than it was just two years earlier. The team is taking the team in a much different direction, and in many ways it appears to be the right direction. Playing at Montverde Academy will be one of those good decisions for multiple reasons. We’ll see how it work out when the team takes the field next spring.