This week Orlando City announced the signings of three new players. On Monday the team announced the acquisition of Andres Perea, a 19-year-old midfielder, on loan for the duration of the 2020 season. That same day the team signed 21-year-old midfielder David Loera to a Homegrown Player contract, and today the Lions also signed 18-year-old midfielder Jordan Bender as a Homegrown Player. With the exception of Perea, the other two players aren’t likely to make a big impact on the OCSC first team this year, and probably aren’t the kind of impact signings most fans are hoping for. However, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t end up being important signings, and the move to begin stockpiling young talent is something that will likely be a key aspect of Luiz Muzzi’s Orlando City.
Anyone who has been listening to Muzzi since he arrived in Orlando shouldn’t be surprised by this week’s signings, in particular that of the two Homegrown Players. Back in January he spoke about how the club can’t miss out on its own academy products, and that one of the worst things to him is an Orlando City academy player not wanting to play for the senior team. He also talked about how he wants Orlando City to be known for its academy and its youth development, remarks that were made shortly after the club signed Benji Michel as a Homegrown Player. Muzzi is on the record saying that he envisions a system where the Orlando City Developmental Academy feeds players to Orlando City B, which in turn feeds players into the senior side. The signings of Loera and Bender are direct examples of that philosophy being put into action.
Perea on the other hand, obviously doesn’t fall into that category. Arriving on loan from Independiente Medellin in Colombia, he is most certainly not an Orlando City academy product. But at 21 years old he’s still part of a targeted effort to sign talented youth, and to do so in a smarter manner. The early indication, at least with Perea, is that the club has learned a lesson from the signing of the now 21-year-old Josué Colmán. Colmán was supposed to be Orlando’s answer to the league trend of finding young South American playmakers and turning them into key attacking pieces. With one goal and six assists across 32 league appearances, it hasn’t worked out that way though, and his 2019 salary of $450,000 is a lot of money for someone that totaled 154 league minutes this year before being sent out on loan. The Lions seem to have learned from that particular experience, however, as the one-year loan deal for Perea represents a far lower risk opportunity than the Colmán signing. If the Colombian doesn’t make the grade then it’s little skin off Muzzi’s teeth, but if he proves to be an inspired signing in the same vein as Ruan, then the club will likely be in good position to sign him to a multi-year deal after the 2020 season, repeating what occurred with the Brazilian right back.
While Loera and Bender were likely signed with an eye towards the future instead of the present, they still might end up contributing to the first team sooner rather than later. Benji Michel wound up as one of Orlando’s more effective attacking options during the second half of the 2019 season, and while that may partly be down to the misfiring nature of the Lions’ other options, Michel is now a player many will be looking at to make a jump during the upcoming season. Even if the two don’t follow in Michel’s footsteps in 2020, expect them to either feature heavily for Orlando City B as Bender did last year, or go out on loan to get first team experience.
Don’t be surprised if you start to see more stories similar to Bender’s in particular. He followed the exact route that I laid out several paragraphs earlier, coming up through the development academy, then playing with Orlando City B, and now being signed by the first team. Muzzi even said that “Jordan’s journey is the blueprint of exactly how we envision the pathway and future of the Orlando City SC development pyramid.” In short, whether its a South American teenager like Perea, or an Orlando youth product like Loera or Bender, the team’s efforts to sign Homegrown and younger players won’t be stopping anytime soon.