Orlando City B is guaranteed to finish the 2019 USL League One season in last place. Without the playoffs to look forward to, fans following the team will undoubtedly be looking at which players may be future contributors for the first team. While there may be a future star on the team, the past has shown that it’s difficult to tell if lower league success can translate to MLS.
In 2016, OCB played its inaugural season in the United Soccer League, the second division of American soccer. The team was largely made up of first-team players not receiving minutes in MLS and career USL players. There was one teenager that had been brought up from the academy.
When the 2016 USL season began, little was known about 18-year-old Pierre Da Silva. He had played for the United States U-17 national team, but was still a young player in the middle of his development. He quickly became noticed during that season on the left side of Anthony Pulis’ 4-2-3-1 formation.
As the youngest player on the Young Lions that year, Pierre Da Silva played in 22 games and started in 17. He tied for fourth on the team with two goals and had a team-leading five assists. When the season ended, Da Silva was signed by the first team to an MLS contract. It was the first time a player had gone from the academy to OCB to the first team.
There was quite a bit of hype for Da Silva when he signed his first MLS contract. While many fans had not seen him play, they had heard of how he shredded the opposition in the second division. To continue his development and not rush him too quickly, Orlando City decided to have him play the 2017 season with OCB. Da Silva improved on his 2016 season, starting 25 games while recording three goals and seven assists.
It could be claimed that if OCB fielded a team in 2018, Da Silva may have been able to continue developing in Central Florida. Maybe it would’ve been a different story for the young midfielder. He went on loan in 2018 to Saint Louis FC, where he played for Pulis, but was released in 2019 following a loan to the Brazilian Club Athletico Paranaense. In total, Da Silva made four appearances for the first team for just 95 minutes.
The lesson behind Pierre Da Silva’s story at Orlando City is that you never know how a player will develop from OCB to the first team. Given how he played at OCB, it was expected that he would be a key contributor for the club for years to come.
This is an important thing to understand when watching OCB play. Many of these players are still teenagers and need development. You hope that one or two of those players will end up being starters for the first team but it’s far from a guarantee.
It can be difficult to understand this when fans see players like Moises Tablante or Lucas Ontivero. While the latter is 24 years old and may be with the first team soon, Tablante is still a young player who must improve on certain parts of his game. Even if the club were to sign any of the loanees from Brazil that have played so well, like Leonardo Simas or Thiago Souza, there’s no guarantee that they will even play for the first team.
When the Orlando City academy was founded in 2012, club owner Phil Rawlins hoped to see a team of academy products on the field. That’s a dream that was continued with the hiring of Luiz Muzzi, who stated that the team’s season is considered a failure if no OCB players sign for the first team.
It’s easy for people to jump the gun when they see teams like FC Dallas fielding a starting 11 full of academy products. Orlando City is not there and will likely not be there for some time. That’s obvious with the fact that OCB only had eight academy products on the roster this season.
So when you watch OCB players, remember that they are still young and playing in the third division. If they continue to develop, they may be the Homegrown star that everyone hopes for. They may show promise, but they still need time before they’re ready to reach that next level.