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2020 MLS SuperDraft: Could Lions Land “Local” Forward?

He comes from Georgia, but Cal Jennings has blossomed into a prolific goal scorer in his four years in Orlando.

MLS: MLS Super Draft Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

We’re less than a week removed from the 2020 MLS SuperDraft and Orlando City will look to continue a decent track record of finding talent using a mechanism that seems more tenuous by the year. The Lions have done a good job of identifying college talent that can stick in MLS and that’s not an easy task.

But Orlando has gotten MLS games out of quite a few of its draft picks over the years, led of course by the club’s first ever draft selection. Cyle Larin was a no-brainer first overall pick out of UConn and the big Canadian striker put his name in the MLS record books with a 17-goal rookie campaign, followed by two more double-digit goal seasons before moving on to play in Europe. In that same 2015 class, Orlando picked up longtime backup goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. and defender Conor Donovan. Both made a few appearances for the Lions and Edwards had a few big moments in the U.S. Open Cup.

Richie Laryea and Hadji Barry both saw the field from the 2016 draft, although neither is still with the Lions. Barry has become a top-notch scorer at the USL level while Laryea went home to Toronto and breathed new life into his career by converting to fullback. The Lions traded their top picks away for 2017, but in 2018, the club picked up Chris Mueller, who has become a fan favorite and has scored eight goals over the last two seasons with Orlando.

So, who will be the next big thing in purple to come out of the SuperDraft? The Lions might not have to look very far to find that player.

Cal Jennings, 22, is just down the road at UCF, where he completed a prolific senior season. Jennings scored 18 goals in 20 appearances and the 5-foot-11 forward out of Roswell, GA added four assists. He had three multi-goal games, including a hat trick against Temple in 2019. He fired 67 shots and put 32 of them (48%) on target. With 18 going in, Jennings scored on 27% of his total shots and on 56% of his shots on target, making for an impressive finishing rate. Seven of his goals were game winners for the Knights. Top Drawer ranks Jennings fourth overall among all players as of Dec. 16, and the top forward.

Prior to 2019, Jennings appeared in 15 matches his junior season, scoring 14 times and assisting on four other goals. Of his 83 total shots, he got 40 on frame and scored five game-winners as a junior. He posted 14 goals and eight assists across 29 combined games (17 starts) in 2016 and 2017. He put 30 of his 50 shots on target over those two seasons and produced eight game-winning goals.

The two-time All-American would seem to fit the bill for the Lions. The kid just scores. He started scoring his freshman season and did it all the way through the 2019 NCAA tournament, when he led the Knights to the Round of 16 before falling to SMU in Dallas in extra time. Jennings scored in the 25th minute of his final match, only to see SMU tie the game 11 minutes later from the penalty spot and eventually win it in the extra session via golden goal.

Besides being good at soccer — the biggest plus when drafting a player — Jennings seems to have the right mindset to become a professional. Here’s a look at him during his junior season and he’s only gotten better since.

There’s no guarantee that Jennings will still be on the board for the Lions to take with the No. 5 overall selection. However, if he is, the UCF product would be worth a look — not just because he’s been scoring goals in Orlando for four years, but because he’s a player who could help Orlando City.

Will he be available? Well, so far the mock drafts I’ve seen have him going around the fourth or fifth spot. We’ll have to wait until Thursday to see if he’ll be available for Orlando and whether the Lions will select him.

The 2020 MLS SuperDraft begins Thursday, Jan. 9 at noon and will be live streamed.