As the 2020 MLS SuperDraft approaches, teams are considering which young college players to select for their team. For Orlando City, the SuperDraft used to be an important part of building its team. However, the Lions may have more opportunities than ever this year.
It’s no secret that Orlando City struggled to develop Homegrown talent in the past. Despite having a development academy since 2012, only two Homegrown Players came out of the club’s academy prior to this off-season: Mason Stajduhar and Benji Michel. This made the SuperDraft more important for the first team’s roster construction.
Orlando City is one of the smaller markets in MLS and, as owner Flavio Augusto da Silva publicly said, has one of the least-wealthy operators. This means the club must find cheaper ways to build its roster, including finding hidden gems around the world and drafting quality players.
Previously, the draft was the primary way Orlando City found these young players. First-round picks like Cyle Larin and Chris Mueller, and second-round pick Kamal Miller have played important roles for the team over the past five years. Finding players who could contribute immediately was essential for the team’s success, but that has begun to change.
Prior to last season, Orlando City hired Luiz Muzzi as executive vice president of soccer operations. Muzzi joined the club from FC Dallas, one of the league’s most successful clubs at developing players for the first team, and immediately made it clear that the club would focus more on developing Homegrown Players.
Muzzi has proven his point this off-season as the club signed two Homegrown Players that were developed through the academy: Jordan Bender and David Loera. Their additions doubled the number of Homegrown signings out of the club’s academy. With the new focus of Orlando City B being to provide a place for academy graduates, there will undoubtedly be more to come in the near future.
With Orlando City now developing its own players out of the academy, it will be less dependent on the MLS SuperDraft for young talent. While the team will still look for players through the draft, there are now multiple ways it can use its picks.
While the Lions are developing their own players, there are still other clubs that are not. Those clubs will still rely on the draft for young talent and this provides more opportunities for Orlando City. Rather than selecting the best player available, the club has the opportunity to trade that pick for a better one in the future or for allocation money to buy down a Designated Player or acquire more experienced ones.
This doesn’t mean Orlando City should trade its picks though. Quality talent can still be found in the early rounds of the draft and, if the right player is available, the team should absolutely make a selection. However, if the players the club most desires are gone, the opportunity to make other moves is open as the club develops players through the academy to fill those roles. The team can trade down, try to get a better pick in a future draft, or move the pick for other assets. There is much more flexibility.
Developing Homegrown talent also creates the option of picking projects. A player might not be MLS ready now, but might show signs of potential. If you’re depending on the draft to build a roster for the upcoming season, you can’t take these risks. However, if you’re able to produce (productive) Homegrown Players, you can take these chances knowing you have quality young players produced through your own academy.
When not able to develop their own players through their academy, clubs must rely on the SuperDraft to find young talent that will play a role on the team well into the future. Orlando City has put more emphasis on developing its own talent over the past year and it’s already starting to show. This gives the club more opportunities in the upcoming MLS SuperDraft and those in the future.