Orlando City announced last week that Orlando City B, the club’s second team, will be returning in the newly-formed USL Division III. But this team is unlikely to be very similar to the OCB that played during the 2016 and 2017 USL seasons. It also leaves the club with another crucial decision to make.
When OCB was announced in 2015, it was supposed to be a link between the club’s academy and first team in MLS. It was a plan that never really came to fruition. The roster was primarily made up of career USL players and first-team guys that weren’t seeing regular minutes in MLS games.
The team did have some academy players join OCB for the occasional game using a rule that allows current academy players to play with a reserve team without ruining their amateur status, and subsequently their collegiate soccer aspirations. But the only player that came out of the academy and was signed professionally to OCB was Pierre Da Silva, a player whose Homegrown rights were owned by one of New York’s MLS clubs due to his appearing for the U.S. U-17 National Team prior to joining Orlando City’s youth system.
As OCB prepares to return for 2019, you can expect a very different type of team. According to Orlando City General Manager Niki Budalic and OCB General Manager Mike Potempa, the team based at Montverde Academy will be made up primarily of academy graduates, developing them to play for the first team.
This will make OCB very different than previous teams as these players will be eligible to sign as Homegrown Players, meaning that Orlando City will own their rights. Even when the club signed OCB players Mikey Ambrose and Tony Rocha, it had to make trades with FC Dallas and Sporting Kansas City before placing them on the first team. Essentially, if you’re watching OCB in 2019, more of those players will be likely to play for Orlando City in the future than the 2016 and 2017 teams.
All of this sounds positive for the return of OCB, but it does create one issue that still must be resolved. As OCB will be playing in the third division, a league much more focused on player development, most first-team players not receiving playing time or those returning from injury won’t be joining OCB, something Budalic has stated publicly. So where do these players go?
In 2015, Orlando City had an affiliation and minority ownership, in Louisville City FC, so the club loaned players there. For the 2016 and 2017 seasons, those players went down to OCB who were playing in the same league. Without an affiliate or USL team, Orlando City has primarily sent players this season to Saint Louis FC.
Continuing to send players to Saint Louis FC does make sense. The club’s head coach is former Lion and OCB head coach Anthony Pulis, who played with James O’Connor in Orlando and comes from the same coaching tree headed by Adrian Heath. But sending players for a game to two to Missouri is a long trip and doesn’t allow the club to make quick decisions on where a player will play.
The club could affiliate with a team closer to home, such as the Tampa Bay Rowdies, or form a hybrid team in Jacksonville, a market the USL has been looking to get into for years. A hybrid setup would allow the club to run the soccer operations without taking on the financial responsibility.
Another possibility to work on first-team player fitness is to set up scrimmages between the reserves and OCB. This is something Potempa mentioned in the article linked above.
Potempa said other ways to bring players back from injury include matches between the top development sides and the first team. He outlined several issues with bringing first-team players down to OCB, like a lack of motivation from experienced first team players and the issue of younger players who’ve trained missing out on matches.
“Everywhere else in the world, they don’t loan down their first-team players to get minutes with the reserve team,” Potempa said. “It just doesn’t happen. Everything is up.”
Now that OCB is officially back, what the team decides to do with current players that need minutes in the USL is the next crucial decision. What we do know is that with OCB returning, the club now has a full pyramid from U-4 all the way to MLS. That’s something that can only be good for the club’s future.