Orlando City has a big off-season ahead as the club looks to shift the personnel to match Head Coach James O’Connor’s vision one year after doing the same for Jason Kreis. With several players brought in under Kreis still on the books for 2019, the Lions may have to get creative with the cap space they have available to mold the next roster in O’Connor’s vision.
In addition to the salary budget, each MLS Club spends additional funds on player compensation including money from a league-wide allocation pool (General & Targeted Allocation Money), the cost of Designated Players outside the Salary Budget, and money spent on the Supplemental and Reserve Rosters (roster spots 21-30).
Earl Edwards, Jr., Richie Laryea, and Tony Rocha were on Orlando’s Supplemental Roster and therefore off-budget. Jose Villarreal carried a Homegrown tag and was also off-budget as a member of the OCSC Reserve Roster.
The five players that did provide cap relief were as follows (with their 2018 guaranteed salaries per the MLS Players Union): Joe Bendik ($189,083.40), Chris Schuler ($81,250), Jonathan Spector ($636,941.50), Scott Sutter ($225,000), and Donny Toia ($125,004). As none of the players were Designated Players, all of these funds are saved from Orlando City’s pool of budget space and allocation money for a grand total of $1,257,278.90 in cap savings.
Some of these players could return on new contracts, which would in all likelihood be lower than their 2019 options and save cap space. Other players could also leave in the next few months to open up more space. The league will also provide the club with a new stash of General and Targeted Allocation Money for the new season, which could go toward the roster. Orlando has traded away quite a bit of its yearly allotments of allocation money in recent seasons in trades for Dom Dwyer, Uri Rosell, and Justin Meram; some of that money could instead be used on the salaries of a player or two instead of to acquire them.
Because of the potential flux in cap space, we’ll operate under the assumption Orlando City has $1.26 million to play with at the moment. O’Connor is on a mission to reshape the team in his image and will have a moderate amount of flexibility; the main concern being if the club has enough money to fill those needs with the right players. The recent departures leave two glaring holes on the roster: goalkeeper and right back.
Bendik’s salary was about average for starting MLS keepers. Top keepers in the league (not counting the outlier that is Tim Howard), are generally paid between $250,000 and $450,000. Regardless of where Orlando looks for its next man between the pipes, chances are it will run the club between those figures.
Sutter was on the lower end compared to other starting fullbacks. There has been a rash of TAM fullback signings across the league over the last few years. Players like Ashley Cole, Bacary Sagna, Jorge Villafana, and Brad Smith have entered the league at nearly double Sutter’s pay. Orlando can likely find a middle ground, but chances are the Lions will have to dig deeper into the coffers than they did with Sutter to find a suitable fit the way the league is trending. Chances are, City will need to invest up to $300,000 at the very least if the club wants to find a top MLS right back.
The biggest question for the front office — particularly the club’s new general manager — is what to do with the center backs. Orlando retained three pure central defenders as well as Carlos Ascues, who played both center back and defensive midfield in 2018. After suffering the worst defensive season in club history, can Orlando really afford not to bring in a replacement for Jonathan Spector? Would bringing Spector back on a reduced contract, and saving cap space for other parts of the roster, be a legitimate way forward? Should the club feel another center back is necessary, the newcomer would likely need to be paid something in Spector’s salary range or higher to replace his production. With so many needs elsewhere, can Orlando afford it? For example, spending $300,000 in salary on a goalkeeper, $300,000 on a starting right back, and $600,000 on a new central defender is already pushing the limits of the available cap space without improving the attack or bringing in depth.
The majority of the TAM at Orlando’s disposal is likely to go toward an attacker — or buying down Sacha Kljestan to sign a new Designated Player — in an effort to supply Dom Dwyer with some goal-scoring assistance up top. But the task of the front office is allocating the funds correctly. Orlando City has a lot of work to do when it comes to turning the Lions into a playoff-caliber team and, for the moment, a limited amount of money to work with.