On Tuesday, Orlando City announced which players had their options picked up or declined for the 2019 season. Amid the team’s contract status update, we learned that Joe Bendik, Richie Laryea, Tony Rocha, Chris Schuler, Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, Donny Toia and Jose Villarreal did not have their options picked up. Additionally, the contract of goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr. has expired.
All of these players ultimately are part of the rich tapestry of the club’s history. Some played larger roles than others and will be more widely remembered, but each has his own place, big or small, in the team’s DNA.
It’s possible that some of the players will renegotiate new deals with the club, but there are no guarantees. So before we say goodbye to these nine players, let’s take a look back at some of the top moments this group has contributed in their time in Orlando.
The Unlikely Goal Hero
Schuler scored his only goal as a Lion in one of the least expected ways. Orlando City lined up to take a free kick against Toronto FC on July 14. It was played short and Dom Dwyer took a shot. Schuler read the play perfectly and timed his run so that when Alex Bono spilled the initial Dwyer blast, the big center back was the only one there to pounce on the rebound and head it into the net for the game’s opening score.
The 2018 season was about to begin with a disappointing home loss to D.C. United. With PC sent off earlier in the game, the Lions were a man down and a goal down as the seconds began to run out. Spector pushed up the field and sent a pass to Justin Meram. While the defense collapsed toward Meram, Spector continued his wide run and received a return pass from Meram. The cool, calm center back sent an inch-perfect pass into the middle for Stefano Pinho’s easy finish to rescue a point and send the Orlando City Stadium crowd into ecstasy.
The Landlord Says No
Earl Edwards Jr. had his greatest moment with the Lions in an unbelievable U.S. Open Cup match in 2015 at the Charleston Battery. Despite giving up four goals in what was a 4-4 draw through extra time, Edwards was the game’s star. He stopped four penalties in a 10-man, sudden death penalty shootout to lead Orlando City to victory.
Stoppage time in Seattle. The Lions trailed 1-0 on June 21, 2017, and seemed destined to fall to 0-3 in the all-time series with the Sounders. The final whistle was just seconds away and second-half substitute PC drew a free kick outside the penalty area to the left. Kaka stood over it for Orlando’s final gasp of the match. The captain delivered a near-post ball and Sutter picked the perfect time to score his first goal as a Lion. The header was more of a facial, but Sutter didn’t care how it hit him, he was simply elated that it went in. The Lions drew level in the 94th minute and swarmed the Brazilian, who had fallen onto his back in disbelief. Oh, and Bendik had a pretty strong game that day too.
The Other Equalizer
Spector had just about done the same thing Sutter did at Seattle, only four days earlier. Trailing 3-2 at home to the Montreal Impact on June 17, 2017, the Lions took a corner kick in the fourth of six stoppage minutes and Matias Perez Garcia stood over the ball. MPG delivered a good cross into the middle of the area and Spector rose high and placed his header where it was impossible to stop, just inside the upper left corner of the goal frame. The Lions held on for a 3-3 draw before flying out to Seattle.
The Other Other Equalizer
Sutter certainly showed a flair for the dramatic during his time in Orlando. In addition to the goals above, Sutter also smashed a shot off Josue Colman’s back to beat the Red Bulls late in a game earlier this season to kick start a six-game winning streak. He also finished a gorgeous team play that led to this 91st-minute equalizer to draw the Philadelphia Union on Sept. 1. Yoshimar Yotun’s long ball found Colman, who sent a neat flick for Sutter to run onto and blast into the far corner to send the home crowd home happy.
The Double Save
Both Spector and Bendik were involved in this play that won MLS Save of the Week in Week 14 of 2017. The defender and the keeper combined to not only thwart D.C. United in what was ultimately a 2-0 win on May 31, but also drew the most anguished and horrified look I’ve ever seen come across Ben Olsen’s face. A horrible back pass by Jose Aja resulted in a turnover. Bendik got caught out and Spector came to his rescue. The goalkeeper recovered to deny any opportunity of a put-back after Spector’s goal-line save. It was one of the most memorable stops in club history.
There were other bright spots. Villarreal showed flashes in the 2018 U.S. Open Cup, playing some quality minutes against Miami United FC and entering late against D.C. United, only to see his penalty attempt saved in the shootout. Toia had a tremendous through ball to spring Sacha Kljestan for a goal at LAFC this past season. Laryea starred for OCB and showed glimpses of creative attacking play with the MLS side. Rocha plugged in wherever Orlando City’s coaches asked him to and was solid regardless of the position, providing four assists in 15 games over his final two seasons.
If that’s it for these players in purple, we thank them for their service and wish them well as they move forward into the next chapters of their lives.