The 2018 MLS season is nearly upon us and Orlando City is a completely revamped team. It’s possible that many of you tuned out in the long off-season and found other hobbies, or even lives. It is mainly for you that this post exists, but even the most ardent followers of the club still want to know things like:
- Who counts as an international?
- Which player has changed numbers, making my expensive custom jersey obsolete?
My aim here is to introduce you to the 2018 Lions, including new shirt numbers, your internationals, Designated Players, and basically what you truly need to know about the roster headed into Orlando City’s fourth MLS campaign. Let’s get started and go in numerical order.
1 Joe Bendik, Goalkeeper
You know him, you love him. Orlando’s stopper is back between the sticks for 2018. We may hate the state his listed hometown is in (Marietta, GA), but we like it when he makes an amazing save that preserves a lead or keeps his team in the match. Joe has become one of this team’s leaders and a fixture in front of the goal Orlando City is defending. Bendik enters his third year as City’s primary goalkeeper since arriving in December of 2015 in a trade with Toronto FC.
2 Jonathan Spector, Defender
Orlando City’s best center back in MLS (to date) returns for his second season in purple to anchor the back line with his experience and veteran savvy. The 32-year-old will look to build on a solid first MLS season in which he scored one (very big) goal and added an assist in 25 appearances. After being paired with a revolving door of partners in 2017, the former Premier League defender will look to find some stability in 2018. Oh, and he was named the team’s 2018 captain on Wednesday.
3 Amro Tarek, Defender
One of the new faces for 2018, Tarek arrived on loan from Egyptian side Wadi Degla FC on a one-year loan with a club option to buy at the end of the loan agreement back on Feb. 2. Born in Los Angeles, Tarek does not occupy an international slot. He has previous MLS experience due to a brief loan from La Liga side Real Betis to Columbus in 2016, during which he appeared in one game. Much of the 25-year-old’s prior professional experience has come from playing for various German reserve sides, including SC Freiburg II (2011-2012) and VfL Wolfsburg II (2012-2013). The dual national (U.S. and Egypt) provides a physical presence on the OCSC back line and could pair with Spector for the opener due to the late arrival of Lamine Sané (more on him later).
4 Will Johnson, Midfielder
Johnson enters his second season with the Lions and switches from jersey No. 8 to No. 4 for 2018. While some fans soured on the Canadian international (who doesn’t require an international slot) after last year’s midseason arrest on domestic violence suspicion, Johnson was never prosecuted and has worked hard to put 2017 behind him. He started the preseason hot, by scoring three goals and adding an assist in Orlando City’s first two scrimmages in February. That should boost his confidence entering 2018 and he could be moved around a bit as various other pieces gain match fitness or return from injury. It will be interesting to see how Jason Kreis uses the veteran when his full squad is available.
5 Dillon Powers, Midfielder
Originally dropped at the end of 2017, Powers re-signed for a second stint with the Lions back on Dec. 18. The 2013 MLS Rookie of the Year while with Colorado, Powers was originally acquired in a trade with the Rapids last August but appeared in just six games (four starts) during the final stretch of 2017 for Orlando. On Wednesday, Jason Kreis said he did not expect Powers to be available for the opener due to an ankle injury sustained in a preseason scrimmage against Philadelphia. He turned in his No. 15 shirt and will replace Servando Carrasco as the wearer of No. 5 for the Lions.
6 Richie Laryea, Midfielder
The Lions’ No. 7 overall pick in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft is entering his third season with Orlando City. Laryea didn’t appear in any MLS games in 2016, spending the entire season with the club’s USL reserve side. He also played much of the 2017 season with OCB, but did finally get his first 12 MLS appearances (one start), logging 250 minutes and notching his first MLS assist to go along with three shots (two on target). The Canadian, who is one of Orlando’s seven internationals, is looking to break through in 2018 but a crowded midfield will make it difficult for the Generation Adidas player. An adductor strain threatened his availability for the opener but he was back at full training earlier this week.
7 Cristian Higuita, Midfielder
Despite being only 24 years old, Higuita seems like a grizzled MLS veteran. The Colombian — who has a green card and doesn’t take up an international slot — enters his fourth season with the club after being acquired in late January of 2015. Higuita bounced back and forth from the bench to the starting lineup in his first three seasons and was hampered by a hamstring issue in 2016. He’s logged 73 matches with the Lions to date, starting 59, and contributing two goals and six assists. His outlook for 2018 is cloudy with the addition of Uri Rosell and a deeper defensive midfield than we’ve seen in recent years but if he’s on the bench, that’s a good luxury to have.
8 Tony Rocha, Midfielder
Speaking of defensive midfielders with cloudy prospects for playing time, Rocha enters his third season with the club after being signed in August of 2016. The University of Tulsa product out of Spring, TX, played just 25 minutes in three MLS appearances last season. He spent the bulk of the year at OCB after picking up a preseason injury that derailed the start of his 2017 campaign. However, he did register his first MLS assist in a 2-0 win over D.C. United last May 31. He switches from No. 16 to No. 8 this season after starting his OCSC career wearing No. 46.
9 Justin Meram, Forward/Midfielder
One of the biggest names brought in over the off-season, Meram was acquired from Columbus Crew SC on Jan. 29 in exchange for $1.05 million in combined allocation money and a 2019 international roster slot. The club listed him as a forward on the roster release but he’s been a more traditional wing player through most of his pro career. The Iraqi international is a Michigan native, so he doesn’t use an international slot. Meram enters his first year as a Lion after being a Lion of Mesopotamia since 2014. He should become a fixture in the starting lineup.
10 Josué Colmán, Midfielder
Colmán is a Young Designated Player from Paraguay that Orlando signed Jan. 15 from Cerro Porteño (Paraguay). The 19-year-old is a dynamic playmaker who will help create scoring opportunities as either a right wing or a No. 10 and can even be used as a striker in a pinch, although he’ll need to further develop his goal-scoring capabilities. He replaces Kaká in the iconic purple No. 10 jersey. Colmán enters the first season of a multi-year deal as a Lion slowly, as a preseason quad contusion will keep him sidelined for Saturday’s opening game against D.C. United. It’ll be another week or two before we see the exciting young Paraguayan, who occupies one of the club’s international slots.
11 Pierre Da Silva, Midfielder
Da Silva played one minute of MLS soccer last season. That’s it. One lousy minute. But he’s worked hard this off-season and preseason to give Jason Kreis reasons to find him more playing time in his second season since signing an MLS deal last January. Da Silva, the first player to rise from Orlando City’s academy, play for OCB, and then see MLS action, was a fixture for the club’s reserve side the past two seasons. He wore No. 98 last season but switches to the No. 11 kit for 2018. His best attribute as a player is his play-making ability but he can also score goals. Still just 19 years old, Da Silva will have to impress to bypass the talent that Orlando City has amassed in the midfield this past off-season, but he has the potential to do just that. If he can’t break through, Da Silva could be loaned out to a USL side to get more minutes and develop further.
13 Mohamed El-Munir, Defender
The Lions added Libyan international fullback El-Munir on Dec. 27 because they’d rather sign potential star players than just chill over the holidays. The 25-year-old takes up an international slot, coming over from Serbia’s national champions, FK Partizan Belgrade. He also played for Belarus’ FC Dinamo Minsk in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, making 10 appearances in UEFA Europa League qualifiers and five in the Europa League competition, scoring two goals. He was brought in to battle Donny Toia for the left back spot and Orlando City’s technical staff love his creativity and speed.
14 Dom Dwyer, Forward
Yes, I know you’re well aware of Dom. Born in England, Dwyer became a U.S. citizen and not only doesn’t take up an international slot, but he also plays with the USMNT. Unfortunately, a quad injury will keep him out of the lineup to start the season but with the array of talent added this off-season, Dwyer can rest up while he dreams of all those scrumptious passes that will come his way when he’s healthy. Dwyer came over during the summer window last year from Sporting Kansas City, but this year he swaps numbers from his old No. 18 to No. 14 for the 2018 season. Dom signed a new three-year contract extension this off-season and will be one of the club’s three Designated Players.
15 Cameron Lindley, Midfielder
Orlando City shipped Rafael Ramos and $100,000 in TAM ($50,000 in both 2018 and 2019) to the Chicago Fire on Jan. 18. In exchange, the club acquired dynamic University of North Carolina midfielder Cam Lindley, a Fire Homegrown who didn’t want to play in Chicago. The Indiana native is listed as a Homegrown Player, which I find puzzling, since he never played for the OCSC Academy. However, I’m rolling with it because MLS is weird. Lindley, who signed a four-year deal with Orlando, is a 20-year-old with tremendous upside and was widely regarded one of the best players in college soccer as a sophomore last season, earning ACC Midfielder of the Year honors. He scored seven goals and added 13 assists in 22 starts for UNC last year.
16 Sacha Kljestan, Midfielder
Kljestan enters his first season with the Lions, but he’ll miss the first two matches of the season due to suspension from an incident involving Jozy Altidore during last year’s playoffs. Orlando traded for the MLS assist leader and New York Red Bulls captain on Jan. 3, sending Tommy Redding and Carlos Rivas to New York. The Lions did well to also land $150,000 in TAM and a percentage of any future sales of Redding and/or Rivas. Plagued by a lack of creativity and service throughout last year, Orlando GM Niki Budalic went out and got the guy with more MLS assists over the last three years than anyone else. His presence should improve the offense and he can also provide quality service on set pieces. Sure, we used to hate the sight of his face when he wore the energy drink logo on his shirt, but now he’s our jerk. I’m embracing that. Sacha is one of Orlando’s three Designated Players.
17 Chris Mueller, Forward
Orlando City selected Mueller with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. The kid out of Schaumburg, IL, went to the University of Wisconsin, where he posted a 20-assist season as a senior but all he’s done in the Lions’ preseason is score goals. He scored nine times his final year at Wisconsin, but he’s already got five in an Orlando City uniform, albeit in games that don’t count. With only Dwyer and Stéfano Pinho to compete with for minutes at striker, Mueller could be one of the biggest surprises in MLS this season if he can translate his preseason success to the games that matter.
19 Yoshimar Yotún, Midfielder
With all of Orlando’s roster turnover, it seems like it’s been years since the club acquired Yotún, but he was only signed last Aug. 4 and enters just his second season (first full year) with the Lions. Yoshi came in as a DP during last year’s summer window and around that same time this year he’ll be off playing for Peru in the World Cup. He’s now a TAM-level player, so he’s no longer one of the club’s DPs. The 27-year-old started all 10 of his 2017 appearances for City, and averaged being involved in a goal every other game, finishing with one goal and four assists. However, his goal and two of those assists came in one game — a glorious 6-1 beatdown of New England on Sept. 27. Yotún has played well in the preseason, scoring three goals (all from the spot, but he generally created those chances for himself) and he’ll look to be even more effective for the Lions in his first full MLS campaign.
20 Oriol “Uri” Rosell, Midfielder
MLS noobs may not recognize Rosell’s name but he was a world beater for Sporting Kansas City from 2012 to 2014. “Uri” was acquired by Orlando on Jan. 30 from Portuguese side Sporting CP, which required sending $400,000 in TAM and the top spot in the Allocation Order to FC Dallas to pave the way for the signing. Rosell helped SKC win an MLS Cup and was a rock as a defensive midfielder. He brings those skills to Orlando but isn’t yet match fit after a layoff and a lengthy process in arriving in the U.S. The native of Puig-Reig, Spain, is a product of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy and requires an international slot. Hopefully he’ll be ready for Week 2, but we’ll see.
21 Scott Sutter, Defender
Sutter begins his second season with the Lions after being signed just two days prior to the 2017 MLS campaign from Swiss Super League side BSC Young Boys. Sutter started playing a few weeks after that without a break in between seasons. He’ll probably feel a lot fresher entering 2018 after having an actual off-season. Despite the wear and tear of such a long season, Sutter was one of Orlando’s most consistent performers in 2017. He racked up 30 starts and 32 overall appearances after his arrival, scoring one goal and assisting on four others. Teams began focusing their defending to their left to account for the Orlando City right back’s quality on the ball and chance creation. Hopefully El-Munir will act as a counterpoint on the left side to prevent that happening this season. Sutter is a Swiss international born in London, England, but doesn’t take up an international slot due to getting his green card.
22 Ludovic Lamine Sané, Defender
The club’s most recent addition, Sané signed just days ago from Werder Bremen on Feb. 20. In fact, paperwork may keep him off the field for the opener, as the Bundesliga club reportedly was missing a form necessary to complete the transfer. Hopefully it gets worked out by Saturday. The 30-year-old defender, who will require an international slot, played at a high level in both Germany and France in recent years and should finally be the partner Spector needs in central defense. The French-born Sengalese international is an intriguing player and one that I can’t wait to see on the field.
25 Donny Toia, Defender
Toia enters his second season with the Lions after Orlando acquired his rights from Atlanta following the 2016 season. If there’s a phrase that typifies Toia’s play, it’s “solid but unspectacular.” He generally did most everything right on the defensive end, but struggled to get forward into the attack in 2017. He had little competition at left back last year but El-Munir presents a challenge that will be hard to hold off. Toia even played a bit of center back in preseason and could be called on to play there in case of emergency. The Arizona native played 30 games with the Lions last year (29 starts), mustering three assists but attempting just 13 shots.
27 RJ Allen, Defender
Allen’s rights were acquired from New York City FC on Dec. 18 in exchange for a 2018 third-round MLS SuperDraft pick. The New Jersey native enters his first season as a Lion and the purple No. 27 jersey transfers from former right back Rafa Ramos to Allen. The 27-year-old worked with Kreis before at NYCFC and knows what to expect. He adds grit and depth to the team and can chip in with some occasional offense, which he showed with a goal in the preseason against the Philadelphia Union. You’d be hard pressed to find a better backup for Sutter and one you’d be comfortable having spell the Swiss-English fullback when he needs the rest. In three seasons with NYCFC, Allen played 53 games (42 starts), scoring once and providing 11 assists.
28 Chris Schuler, Defender
A trialist with Orlando City throughout the 2018 preseason, Schuler, 30, has impressed enough to land a deal to become the newest Lion just today. The 6-foot-4 St. Louis, MO, native played with Real Salt Lake from 2010-2017, so he’s well acquainted with Kreis’ expectations. RSL drafted the Creighton product in the third round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. His career has largely been derailed by injuries, but when healthy he’s provided solid play in central defense. He has appeared in 96 career MLS games (87 starts), scoring five goals and adding two assists in the regular season and 11 career appearances (10 starts) in the MLS playoffs. Schuler replaces the departed Jose Aja, who was traded just days ago to Vancouver.
29 Stéfano Pinho, Forward
Like Allen, Pinho was signed on Dec. 18 of last year. The two-time NASL Golden Boot and Golden Ball winner comes over from Miami FC. Lions fans no doubt remember his hat trick that unexpectedly helped knock City out of the 2017 U.S. Open Cup. Pinho is a top-notch finisher and should provide outstanding depth for Dwyer. He led the NASL with 17 goals in 27 games last season. If he can translate that to the MLS level, Orlando has itself a steal. The native of Minas Gerais, Brazil has a green card and will not require an international slot.
31 Mason Stajduhar, Goalkeeper
A Homegrown Player, Mason was blindsided by a bone cancer diagnosis in November. It’s unlikely he’ll see the field in MLS in 2018, even when he beats the disease, due to the depth in front of him. We wish the 20-year-old the best of luck in his comeback.
33 Jose Villarreal, Midfielder
Villareal came to Orlando from the LA Galaxy on Dec. 27 in exchange for a third-round MLS SuperDraft pick in 2019. The 24-year-old Californian was a prized prospect out of the Galaxy academy but got stuck behind high-priced international players on the depth chart and didn’t see as much of the field as he might have on virtually any other team. LA’s second ever Homegrown signing — still listed as an HGP after switching teams — has played in 68 games (25 starts) since 2012, when he entered the league as a teenager. He has five goals and nine assists for his MLS career, meaning he’s been directly part of a goal about every 168 minutes he’s been on the pitch. That’s about one every other game. He can play either in the midfield or in a forward position.
36 Earl Edwards Jr., Goalkeeper
Suddenly 2015 MLS SuperDraft pick Edwards finds himself as one of the club’s longest-tenured players. Earl was selected Jan. 20, 2015 with the Lions’ third-round pick (No. 43 overall). He enters his fourth season with the club, serving as a backup who did not play in 2015 and 2016 but became a vital starter for OCB in 2017 as one of the USL’s top goalkeepers. He became the backup once again late last year when Josh Saunders had season-ending surgery, and made his MLS debut in the season finale. Unfortunately, he didn’t get a lot of help in what turned into a 6-1 loss in his first top flight game. Now the UCLA product is battling to back up Bendik in 2018.
94 Victor “PC” Giro, Defender
PC enters his second season in Orlando after backing up Toia in 2017. The 23-year-old Brazilian was signed to a four-year deal on Jan. 4, 2017 and appeared in eight games (five starts) last season, showing flashes of outstanding offensive play while being inconsistent on defense. He produced one assist in his first MLS campaign and rattled the crossbar, coming inches from adding a goal. His quick movement earned the game-tying free kick at Seattle. Adept at playing either left back or left wing, the young Brazilian has plenty of upside and hopefully will begin to realize some of his potential. He occupies one of Orlando’s international slots.
99 Adam Grinwis, Goalkeeper
A 25-year-old native of Ada, MI, Grinwis was signed on Jan. 5 to push Bendik and Edwards and add competition at the goalkeeper position. A Saint Louis FC keeper a year ago in the USL, Grinwis is a three-year pro who made 61 saves in the USL last season with five clean sheets in 14 appearances, including one against OCB. He was a member of the USL’s Rochester Rhinos in 2015 and 2016. He played against Orlando City during the 2017 preseason in the Lions’ final tuneup and the first ever match at Orlando City Stadium. It reamains to be seen if he or Edwards will emerge as Bendik’s backup, with the other likely being loaned out.
There you have it. Your 2018 Lions are about to embark on the grueling 2018 MLS season, with tons of travel, plenty of blisteringly hot Florida nights, and in the league’s toughest conference. However, the club has assembled the most depth and quality it has ever had. Now we wait for Saturday to see how it starts to unfold.