When Orlando City B was created in 2015, the goal was to build Homegrown talent for the first team. After trying some other methods of development, the club hired a new staff that had experience building a Homegrown team. Their impact on the club was clearly seen Saturday night.
Prior to the 2019 season, Orlando City hired Luiz Muzzi as executive vice president of soccer operations. Early in his tenure, he stated that his goal was to develop and sign academy players to the first team. In order to do that, those players needed to develop through the second team, Orlando City B.
The 2019 season was a confusing one for OCB. SIMA Director Mike Potempa was put in charge of OCB before Muzzi was hired. Once Muzzi was brought on board, it was clear the direction would change a bit as a new person would be put in charge. This led to 2019 being a false start for OCB, knowing that everything would be different in 2020.
Heading into 2020, Muzzi made two main changes. He hired Oscar Pareja as first team head coach and Marcelo Neveleff as academy director and OCB head coach. The three men worked together at FC Dallas and helped build a first team full of Homegrown Players. The plan was to use that same effort to change the culture of a club that had been struggling since its entrance into MLS.
There were several Homegrown Players signed to OCB during the 2019 season but few played. While academy product Austin Amer led the team in minutes, most of the team leaders in minutes were players whose MLS rights weren’t held by Orlando City. This largely defeated the purpose of the developmental team and upset some of the Homegrown Players. Forward Luc Granitur was promoted by the club as a Homegrown talent prior to that season, but was upset with his playing time and how he was used throughout 2019. He’s not playing with OCB in 2020.
The impact of Muzzi fully in charge of OCB and having Neveleff at the club has already been seen in just one game into the 2020 season. In the first three seasons of OCB, the starting lineup never had more than five players whose rights were already held by Orlando City. Saturday night, eight of the 11 starters were either drafted by Orlando City or came out of its academy. A ninth such player came on as a substitute.
A lot has changed in the player development process of OCB since last year. Neveleff and Pareja meet three times a week to discuss tactics and player development. This ensures Pareja knows who is doing well and that the players are being taught the Orlando City way. Additionally, the teams now train at the same facility (current pandemic conditions aside). This will allow the players to train together if the coaches desire without going out of their way. That was a much more difficult thing to accomplish in 2019.
This change in strategy should be welcome for Orlando City fans. Those watching the game Saturday night had the opportunity to see the future of the club. Goalkeeper Austin Aviza was drafted in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft and had a solid game. Wilfredo Rivera, a 16-year-old academy product, had a promising performance in the midfield. Both of those players could be with the first team in the coming years without the club needing to make any trades.
The hiring of Luiz Muzzi was seen as a change in the club’s strategy in developing young talent. With his staff coming in for 2020, this was supposed to be the year the impact of that hiring would be felt. Just one game into the 2020 USL League One season, the additions of Muzzi and Neveleff are already being seen.