Orlando City B is one of the youngest teams in USL League One, with 11 of the team’s 26 players under the age of 20. Most of the team’s players are professionals for the first time, leading to confidence issues early in the season. But as the team’s confidence grows, results are starting to come.
The feeling of the younger players heading into their first professional season was best exemplified earlier this year by 16-year-old forward Luc Granitur. Following the team’s first game of the season, the teenager said, “Going into preseason, I thought I was going to be a lot weaker, slower, not as quick (as older players).”
That viewpoint began to change the more these players got on the field. OCB Head Coach Fernando Jose de Argila Irurita started three very different lineups in the first three games of the season. Only five players played in all of those three games. However, nearly every player on the roster appeared in those games and every healthy player has played significant minutes for the team so far this season.
The OCB coach says that gaining this experience is essential for the players and their development moving forward.
“We have to continue knowing that they are young players,” Irurita said. “The experience that they are getting at this level is going to help them with confidence and to grow in player development.”
This confidence and improvement in performance has led to the Young Lions winning its last two games over Toronto FC II and the Richmond Kickers. That’s a long way from the start of the season when they lost five of their first seven and only had two points. The team and its coaching staff feels that these results will only help the confidence of its young players moving forward.
“The team was already good before the victories,” Irurita said after the team’s 3-2 win over Richmond. “They never stopped putting intensity into practice, doesn’t matter the result. We lost games and they continue to push harder. Now we find the net and now the result is going for us and the team’s morale is really high.”
With these recent wins, the confidence of the players has only grown.
“Once we get wins, we get confidence and we’ve got to keep it going,” OCB midfielder Serginho said following the team’s win over Richmond.
“I feel really confident now,” 17-year-old midfielder Moises Tablante added.
While part of the confidence is experience gained over the past few weeks, the older players are held responsible for helping the younger players during their inaugural professional season.
“As older players, we have got to keep doing a good job of helping them out on the field,” 23-year-old forward Koby Osei-Wusu explains. “We have got to be good leaders.”
The player the coaching staff depends on the most for that leadership is Rafael Santos, who has recently joined the starting lineup and been named captain. The Brazilian joined Montverde Academy at the age of 12 and played for two years under OCB General Manager Mike Potempa and Irurita as a member of the fourth-division side SIMA Àguilas.
“Rafael Santos is really important for the team because he knows how to control the tempo of the game,” Irurita said about his leader. “He’s our coach on the field.”
With a two-game winning streak, OCB now prepares to head out on the road for only the third time this season. The confidence gained in recent weeks has been essential in the development of star players like Serginho, Tablante, Juliano Chade, and Thiago De Souza. Now, that confidence and development is producing points.