This year, Orlando City B moved from the U.S. second division — now known as the USL Championship — to the third division USL League One. With the 2019 USL League One final this past weekend and the season over, this seems like a good time to look back at what we learned about OCB. Here are five takeaways from OCB’s first season in League One.
Off on the Wrong Foot
While the results made 2019 a difficult season for OCB, more damaging was the fact that the team was put together backwards. The team’s return was announced late last year with SIMA Director Mike Potempa put in charge. By the time Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi was hired, the team had several players and a head coach. It was pretty obvious that Muzzi would want a say on the team’s head coach and direction. This made the 2019 season difficult as Fernando Jose de Argila Irurita was essentially a lame duck coach who wasn’t chosen by Muzzi. Building a purpose and culture for OCB is not a simple process and takes some time. The waste of a year could delay the desired results for the club.
OCB Needs More Academy Products
The sole purpose of OCB is to produce players for the first team. Specifically, it’s to produce Homegrown Players for the MLS side. The Young Lions only had nine players out of the academy this season — far fewer than the other two developmental teams in the league: Toronto FC II and North Texas SC. They were also the only one of the three teams not to sign an academy product to the first team. Rather than having a few academy products and players from various other places, OCB should be full of players out of the academy. That’s something that needs to change soon if the club wants to start producing players for the first team.
There Were Some Bright Spots
Looking at the results, there isn’t much positive to take from the season. However, there were some bright spots in 2019. Prior to the season, Orlando City used two players to market the team: Jordan Bender and Luc Granitur. While these two showed signs of what they can do, others made names for themselves this year. Nathan Simeon signed an academy contract for OCB this year and immediately made an impression. While there were several changes to the lineup during the first three weeks, the central defender remained a regular. He started the first 15 games this season and play every minute before leaving for college.
Another academy product who was impressive this season was Austin Amer. The defensive midfielder started most games this season alongside Brazilian import Serginho. A strong defensive-minded player, Amer was key in front of the back four and in building the attack. The most impressive player for OCB this season was midfielder Moises Tablante. The 17-year-old was one of the biggest threats for the Young Lions’ offense and is one to look for moving forward.
Location, Location, Location
A major problem for the club this season was OCB and the development academy being separated from the first team. While the first team trained in Sanford, OCB trained and played at Montverde Academy. This distance made it difficult for OCB players to train with the first team and for former Orlando City Head Coach James O’Connor to see the young players. This is a big reason why Randy Mendoza was the only player to play for the first team, doing so in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The team’s move to Kissimmee with the first team allows the first team staff to see the players more often. Hopefully, this results in seeing some of the players make the jump to the first team.
The Right Setup
One thing Orlando City can learn from 2019 is how it should set up OCB moving forward. All OCB players lived together at Montverde Academy, creating a family environment that was felt by all the players. They lived together, ate together, studied together, and trained together. This created an environment that resulted in close relationships between players and with the club. Orlando City should’ve learned this year that keeping these players close by is positive moving forward, especially if you can sign multiple players to the first team.
The 2019 season was a difficult one for OCB but the results on the field aren’t the only takeaway. These are some of the noticeable things we can take away from this season as the team heads into the off-season and prepares for 2020.