Orlando City B finished its final season in USL League One Saturday afternoon, falling 4-1 to Greenville Triumph SC. It was a tough season for the Young Lions, who only won once and drew three times in a 15-game season. With the lack of success on the field, some might question if there were any positives. In fact, it was a successful season and there are several things that can be taken away from it.
When judging OCB, it’s important to remember that it shouldn’t be judged the same way as the first team or as the independent teams in the same league. The sole purpose of OCB is to develop young talent for the MLS side. A big part of that is learning how to be a professional.
OCB was located at Montverde Academy last season, pretty far away from the first team. The Young Lions weren’t dressing, eating, lifting, or training with players that had been at the level they are striving to reach. That changed this year when Orlando City’s new training facility opened. This year, OCB players were around the first team and could see how they should act as professionals. Being around someone like Nani has a tremendous impact on the young players learning how they should live on and off the field.
Another reason why it’s important to have young academy products on OCB is that they can experience playing at a higher level. These players have been successful through the academy and are ready for the next step. It doesn’t mean that they’ll be successful right away, but they’ll develop better and faster by playing better competition.
This season, 17 different academy products saw playing time with OCB. Nine of those 17 players were on the field for at least 500 minutes of a possible 1,350 minutes this season. Moises Tablante, Thomas Williams, and Wilfredo Rivera are all teenagers out of the club’s academy and were regular starters throughout most of the season.
Tablante had a successful 2019 season with OCB and carried that over into 2020. However, 16-year-olds Williams and Rivera were playing in their first professional season. Both of those players exceeded expectations this year, showing that they might have a future on the first team in a few years.
Whether it’s learning how to play on the field or how to live as a professional off the field, the club’s young academy products are better for having spent this season with OCB. The team’s head coach and Orlando City’s academy director, Marcelo Neveleff, spoke about what the young players have learned this year, what OCB achieved, and how they can make a bigger impact for the club in the coming years.
“Some of the lessons are, again, work to be a little more professional on and off the field from the guys,” Neveleff said after Saturday’s final game. “I think they did a great job on taking care of themselves and everything. If you want to be a professional player, you really need to be committed and commitment is more than coming to practice. It’s about breathing and living soccer 24 hours. That’s number one.
“Number two is that we need to do a better job on our final decisions. Scouting, when we bring players from outside our program, because this year everybody that we brought are great players, good character and everything, but maybe some of them didn’t fit in the way that we wanted them to play.
“The third one is very positive. It’s the minutes that we gave to the young players. Once again, any other way, they would never have this [opportunity]. Players like Thomas [Williams], Wilfredo [Rivera], Tablante, those are just examples. Michael Halliday who is now with the first team. Hopefully we keep producing three or four players a year for the first team and once again create a program for Oscar [Pareja] to make decisions on the first team.”
While a lot of fans might look at OCB’s results and consider this season a failure, one must think about what the objectives are for this team. Fans shouldn’t necessarily expect a lot of success when a group of teenagers are playing against seasoned professionals.
“The experience of (Greenville’s) players,” Neveleff pointed to as a key to Saturday’s loss. “Some of them are 10 years older than Thomas Williams for example, or Wilfredo Rivera. It comes into play. That’s when they take advantage.”
Next season, OCB is expected to join a new reserve league set up by MLS. That will provide even greater opportunity for more academy products to develop at the professional level. Playing teams closer in age to those playing for OCB might result in a better record. But the important thing is that the young players continue to gain experience for when the time comes for them to be called into the first team. That experience is why this season should be considered a success and how future OCB seasons should be judged.