When Orlando City hired Luiz Muzzi as executive vice president of soccer operations, it brought in someone who believed in youth development. Since the hiring of Muzzi, the club has signed and drafted far more Homegrown talent than it has in the past 10 years.
Prior to Muzzi joining Orlando City, signing Homegrown Players was a struggle. The first year saw the signing of Tyler Turner, Tommy Redding, and Harrison Heath to Homegrown deals but none came through the academy. The fact that the club was able to sign those three players was a gift from MLS to help the club get off on the right foot in the league.
Orlando City technically had two other Homegrown Players in Cam Lindley and Jose Villarreal but their Homegrown rights were acquired by the club. Lindley came through the Chicago Fire’s academy and Villarreal through the LA Galaxy’s system.
The first two truly Homegrown Players signed with the first team in 2016 and 2017. Goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar began his youth career with Chargers FC in Tampa but moved to the Orlando City academy later in his development. In 2016, he signed a Homegrown contract with the club, becoming the first Homegrown Player to come out of the academy and sign with the first team.
In 2017, the club signed midfielder Pierre Da Silva to an MLS contract. Da Silva wasn’t able to sign a Homegrown contract with Orlando City because he played with the U.S. U-17 National Team prior to joining the club’s academy. Any players signed to a Homegrown deal must have been in the club’s academy prior to representing the United States at the U-17 or higher level. During 2016, he was signed to Orlando City B before joining the first team. In doing so, he became the first player to make his way from the academy through OCB and to the first team.
Stajduhar and Da Silva were the only two players who came out of the academy and signed first-team contracts with Orlando City prior to Muzzi’s arrival in December 2018. However, in the last year, Orlando City has become a club focused on developing its own talent. That shouldn’t be a surprise considering Muzzi came from FC Dallas, a club known for signing young talent. They’ve also been doing it in different ways.
Some of Orlando City’s Homegrown signings under Muzzi have been in the way that you would expect from an MLS club. Prior to the 2019 season, the club signed forward Benji Michel as a Homegrown Player. Michel came through the club’s academy before attending the University of Portland. This off-season, the club made two additional Homegrown signings in David Loera and Jordan Bender. Loera played for OCB in 2016 while still in the academy and attended North Carolina State University after graduating high school. Bender spent last preseason with the first team before playing last season with OCB.
While these players are traditional Homegrown signings, there are two others that came in a less traditional way. In order to be a Homegrown Player, there are certain requirements that must be met. This includes the amount of time spent in the academy, whether they joined before representing a U.S. youth national team, and if they were designated as a Homegrown Player before attending college.
Prior to the 2019 season, Orlando City looked into signing Florida International University forward Santiago Patiño as a Homegrown Player, but since he only spent eight months in the club’s academy, he didn’t qualify. This didn’t stop the club from acquiring Patiño, a player who grew up in the area and played in the academy, by using its first pick of the 2019 MLS SuperDraft on the forward.
Orlando City did a similar thing this year. Nick O’Callaghan played for Orlando City’s academy back when the club was in the USL. Following graduation, he attended Elon University in North Carolina before transferring to Florida International. During the summer of his freshman year, O’Callaghan played for the Orlando City U-23 team and played for SIMA Aguilas during the summer of 2018. Both of those teams operated as the club’s U-23 teams.
The Lions used their third-round pick of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft on O’Callaghan, bringing in a player who grew up in the area and was largely developed by the club. Since O’Callaghan left for college before Orlando City was in MLS, the club couldn’t add him to its Homegrown list, but he is a local player in every sense.
By using these draft picks on players developed by the club, Orlando City continues to develop a local culture under Muzzi. Prior to his arrival, only two players came through the academy in eight years. In the last 13 months though, the club brought five players into the first team from the club’s academy. That’s a big change and one that should continue well into the future.