The 2020 MLS SuperDraft began on Thursday and continues today with the third and fourth rounds. The selection of these young players led many to wonder where they will play should they remain on the roster into the season. Speculation surfaced that some of the players, especially those taken in the later rounds, could join Orlando City B during the 2020 season. This is an unlikely option.
When OCB started in 2015, it was designed to be a reserve team where MLS players that weren’t receiving minutes could find time on the field. This made sense for a team that was placed in the country’s second division. After a year hiatus in 2018, the team returned in 2019 in the new third division. This move was due to a change in direction as the team became a developmental team.
The primary purpose of OCB now and in the future is to advance players from the development academy to the first team. Ideally, the club wants the team to be full of academy products who aren’t quite ready for the MLS level. These players will mostly be between the ages of 17 and 20. If a player has advanced beyond the USL League One level, which is slightly above the top academy level, they would be better suited for the USL Championship or MLS.
The players taken in the first round are expected to be at the MLS level. Orlando City selected Virginia forward Daryl Dike with the fifth overall pick. In all likelihood, he’ll spend the whole 2020 season with the first team. When you get into the second, third, and fourth rounds though, the future is a little more murky.
As is the case with all college sports, not all conferences are created equal. Teams in major conferences that sponsor soccer, such as the ACC, Big East, Pac-12, and American, are facing competition above the USL League One level. The level of that quality of soccer is probably somewhere between the USL League One and USL Championship. For a lot of those players, playing at OCB would be playing at a level below where they did in college.
When it comes to the first- and second-round selections for Orlando City, each player played at a high collegiate level. The first two picks, Dike and Joey DeZart, fill a position of need for the club and played at the highest level of college soccer. Dike played for Virginia, which made it to the 2019 College Cup, while DeZart, a defensive midfielder, played at one of the nation’s premier programs in Wake Forest. Jonathan Dean, a defender from UCF, played in the American Athletic Conference and goalkeeper Austin Aviza played at high-level programs such as Syracuse, UConn, and Providence.
With the level that these players played at in college, it would be a step back to play at OCB, a team that will mostly feature teenagers. The more likely situation is that the two top picks will be placed right into the first team and the second two will either be on the first team or loaned to a USL Championship team should they remain with the club after the preseason.
The problem with the MLS SuperDraft is that it’s hard to find quality players who are worth keeping after the first two rounds. Most of the best young players these days spent time in MLS academies, making them ineligible for the draft. Ideally, you want your young players to either be Homegrown or Generation Adidas so that they don’t count against the salary budget. None of the players taken during the third or fourth rounds of the draft will be either of those.
If there is a player who might be placed on OCB, they would likely come in the third or fourth round. In all likelihood, they would also have to be coming out of college following their sophomore year. This is because any player joining OCB will be a project, while those more developed would go to a USL Championship team instead.
If you’re going to take a project in the draft and keep him on the roster, you’ll need to give him a few years to develop. If you take a 22-year-old player out of college, that means he might be 25 before he makes his MLS debut. That’s too old for a rookie in the league.
When Orlando City brought OCB back into the club, they put the side in the country’s third division. This stated that OCB would be a developmental team rather than a reserve side. Although there are no absolutes, and every case is different — 21-year-old Mason Toye, for example, played with Forward Madison FC in USL League One but still played a role for Minnesota United in 2019 — players taken in the draft from major colleges will typically be above that level and, therefore, shouldn’t be expected to join OCB.