Orlando City signed two Homegrown Players last week, inking midfielders David Loera and Jordan Bender to multi-year deals. The signings showed Luiz Muzzi’s commitment to building a team of academy-produced players. It also showed that the club needs to stick with the current setup for its developmental side, Orlando City B.
When OCB launched in 2015, it was designed to provide first team players who weren’t receiving minutes some playing time. While that’s a necessity, it was the wrong way to use the team. Following the 2017 USL season and a year on hiatus, OCB returned with a different purpose.
The 2019 USL League One season saw OCB return to action as a strictly developmental side. Much of the team was made up of Orlando City academy graduates. This made the team quite young and it struggled to achieve results, but the signings last week show that it’s the right way to go.
One of the most talented players to come through the academy, Loera graduated from high school in 2017. With OCB not a possibility for academy products, the young midfielder’s only choice was to go to college. His decision was to go to North Carolina State University, but it wasn’t solely for the education.
“The coaching staff was the best fit for me to make it to the next stage,” Loera told The Mane Land during his freshman year. “I’m closer to achieving my dream of playing professionally.”
Loera hasn’t been shy about why he chose to attend NC State. Rather than its educational benefits, he was looking for the best place to continue his quest to be a professional soccer player. “The ACC is the best league in the country,” he said.
If OCB had been a landing spot for academy products in 2017, there’s little doubt that Loera would’ve been signed to a professional contract. Rather than signing his first MLS contract at 21, he would’ve done so at 18 or 19. Those two years are crucial for the development of a young player.
With OCB changing its purpose heading into 2019, Jordan Bender became one of its first signings. The 18-year-old spent the 2019 MLS preseason with the first team before appearing in 16 games for the developmental side. That allowed the Orlando City staff to keep a close eye on his daily progress. and there’s no question that playing for OCB benefits young players.
“OCB definitely helped me prepare,” Loera said about his time with the team in 2016 and 2017. “It helped me to become more physical and adapt to the faster pace.”
Bender benefited from the experience as well, resulting in his signing last week. The big difference in these two signings is their ages. At 21, Loera is nearing the age where he will be expected to reach his potential. Bender still has a few more years to develop. OCB’s move to the club’s new training facility in Kissimmee will certainly help. The young players will be able to train with the first team regularly, allowing them to adapt to the faster pace and physicality.
Last week’s signing of two Homegrown Players that were developed by the club was a milestone for Orlando City. It also proved that OCB’s change from reserve team to developmental team has them headed in the right direction.