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Orlando City Beginning to Focus More on Youth Within First Team

With new management at the wheel, how does the 2019 roster look compared to years past?

MLS: SuperDraft Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

With so many changes happening within the Orlando City organization, it should come as no surprise to see so many familiar faces gone, and so many new faces in place. Luiz Muzzi came to Orlando City with a well-known mindset and recipe for success: build the team from the youth system. His work at FC Dallas is widely known, and it is no stretch of the imagination to believe that what he was able to help build at FC Dallas is a massive reason for Orlando City swooping in and bringing him to the City Beautiful.

Florida should be an absolute hotbed of talent, and Muzzi has effectively stated as much. If the Lions’ organization can find a way to harness and build off that, it could create a system to rival any in MLS.

One thing that has been in every conversation for the past few months is youth. On the surface, it certainly appears as though the Lions are going for a much younger look. But when you run the math, does it actually equate to that? With the “older” players that have been released starting to be replaced by what seem to be “younger” players, how does the roster actually compare to previous years in the Lions’ brief MLS history? Thanks to the power of the internet, Microsoft Excel, a master’s degree in laser physics, a six pack of Modelo Especial, and a few drams of Glen Deveron 16-year, we can sit together and look at the numbers ourselves.

Orlando City entered the league in 2015 with a roster that brought over some players from the old USL side, but also entered the league with 2007 Ballon d’Or winner, Kaká. Here is a breakdown of the numbers I have been able to find for the 2015 squad (I used the ages of every player listed on the roster for the year in question).

  • Total number of players on the roster used for the calculation: 31.
  • Average age: 23.77.
  • Goalkeepers: 3, average age of 26.
  • Defenders: 10, average age of 23.3.
  • Midfielders: 12, average age of 25.
  • Forwards: 6, average age of 21.

For the 2016 season, we saw a few notable names come into the club like Joe Bendik, Antonio Nocerino, Julio Baptista and Matias Perez Garcia. The 2016 roster numbers are:

  • Total number of players on the roster used for the calculation: 28.
  • Average age: 24.14.
  • Goalkeepers: 2, average age of 24.5.
  • Defenders: 12, average age of 22.92.
  • Midfielders: 11, average age of 25.82.
  • Forwards: 3, average age of 22.67.

For 2017, the Lions saw some more rather dramatic roster turnover. Notable names joining the team were Will Johnson, Victor “PC” Giro, Pierre Da Silva, Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, Dom Dwyer, and Yoshimar Yotún. Notable names who left the club during the year were Luke Boden, Baptista, Kevin Molino, Brek Shea, MPG, and Kaká. The 2017 roster numbers are:

  • Total number of players: 29.
  • Average age: 25.24.
  • Goalkeepers: 3, average age of 28.67.
  • Defenders: 11, average age of 24.27.
  • Midfielders: 11, average age of 26.
  • Forwards: 4, average age of 23.25.

Last season is one that we all hope to soon forget. The sting is still there, but it’s finally starting to fade as 2019 approaches. Notables joining the Lions were RJ Allen, Stefano Pinho, Mohamed El-Munir, Sacha Kljestan, Josué Colmán, Justin Meram, Oriol Rosell, and Lamine Sané. Those who left the club included Carlos Rivas, Tommy Redding, Cyle Larin, and all of the player movement at the end of the year. The 2018 roster numbers are:

  • Total number of players: 29.
  • Average age: 25.55.
  • Goalkeepers: 3, average age of 26.
  • Defenders: 11, average age of 26.91.
  • Midfielders: 12, average age of 24.3.
  • Forwards: 3, average age of 25.

This brings us to 2019, and a roster yet to be filled. I am including the recently added SuperDraft picks, as well as all other players that have been officially introduced. Notable additions for the 2019 season are Tesho Akindele, Joao Moutinho, Greg Ranjitsingh, Kyle Smith, and Sebas Mendez. The list of players who are no longer Lions is still a bit hard to type. To date, the 2019 roster numbers are:

  • Total number of players: 26.
  • Average age: 24.92.
  • Goalkeepers: 3, average age of 24.
  • Defenders: 8, average age of 25.75.
  • Midfielders: 9, average age of 24.89.
  • Forwards: 6, average age of 24.

Boiled down real quickly:

  • Youngest group of goalkeepers.
  • Second-oldest group of defenders with only eight on the roster.
  • Second-youngest group of midfielders with only nine on the roster.
  • Second-oldest group of forwards with six on the roster.

Having the back line be “older” does not surprise me, and shouldn’t surprise anyone else. I think if you sampled the top-flight leagues, you would find that many teams’ defenders are the older group within the team. Also of note is that if you remove the age of the two oldest midfielders currently on the roster, and we all know who they are, the average age of the midfield drops to 22.87 years.

This group is now six days from the beginning of training camp, and there are certainly some holes to fill. Based on what we have seen so far from the club, it would make sense to see some more youth brought in. This certainly seems like the beginning of laying the foundation for a core group of young players to form bonds and build a team to move forward with for many seasons. Although the numbers don’t make it obvious, they do begin to show a hint as to what the front office might be planning for the long term. Once the roster is completed, we will revisit this so we can compare apples to apples.