Orlando City B is just over halfway through the 2019 USL League One season, having played 15 of its 28 games. As this was the first weekend it had off this season, it’s a good time to look back at the first half and see how the young players have done. Today, we’ll look at some of the players who came out of the club’s academy as well as some of the other players that have joined the team for this season.
The primary purpose of OCB is to develop first-team players. Due to a lack of strength in the club’s academy, there are only eight players on the USL League One team that came out of the club’s academy. That’s fewer than the other two developmental teams in the league, Toronto FC II and North Texas SC. But there are some potential future first-team players.
The first two players that have stood out this season are midfielder Moises Tablante and defender Nathan Simeon. A 19-year-old center back, Simeon is the only player on the team who has played every minute. He’s been very strong on the back line and, while the defense has had some focus problems at times, Simeon has played quite well for his first professional season.
It took some time for Tablante to get into the team but he has looked very good since. An attacking presence at the left midfield position, he’s scored two goals this season, tying him for third on the team. He’s been out of the team for the last three games but OCB Head Coach Fernando Jose de Argila Irurita says he’s the first division player in the future.
Austin Amer is another young player that has come on recently. After starting once in the first six games, the 19-year-old midfielder has started the last nine games for the Young Lions. While he has the ability to go forward, Amer has primarily been playing in a defensive midfield role for OCB, just in front of the back line. While Serginho often goes forward, Amer stays back in the gap left by the Brazilian and cleans up anything that falls behind. Positioning is a major part of his role in the team and he’s done well, as shown by Argila’s insistence on starting him.
The three most well-known players heading into this season were midfielder Jordan Bender and forwards Ates Diouf and Luc Granitur. Diouf and Bender spent much of the preseason with the first team and the 16-year-old Granitur is one of the youngest players in the league.
Early in the season, it appeared as though all three of these players would play a major role in the team this season. However, this hasn’t been the case. In their first appearances, both Bender and Granitur got off to great starts. They immediately put pressure on the defense and were the primary focus on the OCB attack. Since those first games, neither player has been a focal point for the team, nor caused as much trouble going forward as they did at the beginning of the year.
It was a tough start to the year for Bender, who suffered an ankle injury shortly before the season. After missing out on the opening game, he started the second, playing 73 minutes. He sat out the following week to rest his ankle and has started sporadically since. Granitur started three games up top during April and May, but is still only 16, so he has quite a bit of development ahead of him.
Ates Diouf is another former Orlando City Academy player who many fans have kept an eye on. The striker has started the majority of the games this season with William Bagrou. After starting the first four games, Diouf injured his back on April 19 against Forward Madison FC. That injury kept him out of the next five games. The Young Lions have struggled offensively this season, scoring just 14 goals. That puts them eighth in the league in 2019. Much of this has been because of the struggles of Diouf and Bagrou.
Both strikers have only scored one goal each this season. Diouf’s goal came on April 14 in a 1-1 draw with South Georgia Tormenta FC. Rather than an individual effort, it was a strong Bagrou touch from a nice run by Thiago Souza that allowed Diouf to get his foot on the ball. To this credit, he struck it well past the Tormenta goalkeeper.
Most of OCB’s roster is made up of players from other clubs. These players serve different roles in the team. Some have previous experience and are instrumental in the development of the young academy products. Others are young Brazilian players that are on loan from other clubs.
While a major role of OCB’s coaches is to help develop players, it helps to have experienced professionals who can show them what to do. Sometimes the young players will look up to and emulate these players, providing a leadership the coaching staff is unable to give.
The two primary captains on this team have been Koby Osei-Wusu and Rafael Santos. Osei-Wusu joined OCB from the Richmond Kickers. The forward has been an attacking force, scoring three goals this season. More important though is his understanding of his role on this team. He understands the purpose of OCB and that a major part of his role is to teach the younger players how to be professionals. His ability to handle both of these roles has been impressive so far this season.
Santos, the team’s primary captain, graduated from SIMA, having learned under OCB General Manager Mike Potempa. He went on to join the SIMA Aguilas of the USL Premier Development League, once again coached by Potempa. Argila says that Santos is OCB’s “coach on the field,” as he understands aspects of the game that are difficult for the several teenagers on the team.
Capping off the elder attackers is Bagrou. The 23-year-old forward usually partners with Diouf up top. Bagrou and Osei-Wusu have been two of the most threatening attacking players this season for the Young Lions, despite Bagrou netting just one goal this season. Bagrou experienced a scary moment on April 14 against South Georgia Tormenta FC. With just moments left, a long free kick into the box forced OCB goalkeeper Juliano Chade to attempt to punch it away from danger. While he didn’t get the ball, he hit the side of Bagrou’s head. The striker had to be stretchered off the field and remained sidelined for the next two games with a concussion. He has since come back and is once again a regular in Argila’s lineup.
Defensively, the Young Lions are led by center back Matheus Silva and outside back Randy Mendoza. With the other two starting defenders being just 19 and 20 years of age, Silva and Mendoza take their leadership responsibilities seriously. Like Santos, Silva is a Brazil native who graduated from Montverde Academy. After playing for the San Jose Earthquakes and Swope Park Rangers, he joined OCB for this season. It’s been a difficult season for Silva, who scored an unfortunate own goal on April 27 against North Texas SC. While he’s struggled at times on the field, he provides an experience and leadership alongside the 19-year-old Simeon that can’t be understated.
Mendoza had a horrible start to the 2019 season, getting sent off in the first half of the first game due to a poor challenge. He returned with better composure and has played quite well at the outside back position since returning. In fact, he’s played so well that James O’Connor brought him up to the first team when the Lions traveled to Memphis in the U.S. Open Cup.
While OCB has some players who are expected to help teach their young teammates, there are some younger Brazilians who have played vital roles on this team. Potempa and Argila went to Brazil and scouted these players prior to the season.
Three of the players brought back to play for OCB on loan are from Orlando City’s Brazilian partner club, Clube Athletico Paranaense, including 21-year-old goalkeeper Juliano Chade, who got his first start in the team’s third game this season and has been one of the best goalkeepers in the league. He’s twice been named to the USL League One Team of the Week and twice recorded the league’s Save of the Week.
Leonardo Simas has been terrific this season, especially going forward. The 20-year-old right back has started 12 games for the Young Lions and has been instrumental in multiple goals. In the team’s most recent game, Argila started Simas in the midfield for the first time, attempting to take advantage of this attacking threat, before moving him back to his natural right back position.
OCB’s best attacking player this season has been 20-year-old midfielder Thiago Souza. No player on the OCB roster has caused as much trouble for opposing defenses as Souza. His willingness to take on defenders one-on-one has often caused openings in the defense as others have been forced to come over and cover. Along with Chade and Silva, he’s twice been named to the USL League One Team of the Week.
While Serginho came from Brazil with the other three, he came from Sport Club Corinthians Paulista. Playing deep in the midfield, Serginho has been the team’s free kick specialist for most games. Most of his shots have come from long distance, more often than not missing the target. However, his lone goal was a spectacular strike from way out on May 22 against the Richmond Kickers. After the game, he said those long distance strikes are something he works on in training, preparing him for that moment.
It’s been a difficult year results-wise for OCB, but there have also been a lot of positives. Several young players have shown tremendous development and may end up being first-team players in the future. With more focus going into the development of young players by Luiz Muzzi, the look of the team will likely change in the coming years. As for this one, there’s a lot to look forward to in the second half of the season.