Orlando City saw significant changes in the off-season. This included new coaches and a new training location for the first team, second team, and development academy. The significance of these changes was on display when OCB took the field this weekend.
Last year, the first team was separated from OCB and the development academy. While the first team trained at Lake Sylvan Park in Sanford, OCB and the development academy were based at Montverde Academy, some 40 miles away. There was also little communication between the two sides, resulting in different playing styles.
A major reason for the difference in the teams was that OCB’s structure was largely set up before the arrival of Orlando City Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi. Following last season, Muzzi brought in familiar faces in Oscar Pareja and Marcelo Neveleff. The latter is OCB’s head coach and academy director.
Today, the teams all train at the same facility, which includes the stadium in which OCB plays its games. The teams can train together and the coaches are in close contact. This ensures that the two teams are using the same styles of play so that movement between the teams is seamless.
On Thursday, three Orlando City first-team players joined OCB for its 1-1 draw with North Texas SC. Mason Stajduhar started in goal while Jordan Bender and Joey DeZart played in the midfield. The significantly increased communication between the two sides made the additions easy.
“They came in and they looked like they were always playing with the guys,” Neveleff said following the game. “That’s because also the way we try to play, we try to emulate the first team. The only thing that they saw different, I guess at times, was different faces. The movement and what we’re trying to do is something they are familiar with.”
This is a big change from the 2019 season. While Muzzi was at most OCB games in 2019, the team was largely run by the leaders of the Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy (SIMA). The first coach of 2019, Fernando Jose De Argila Irurita, was chosen by SIMA Director Mike Potempa. He was later replaced by academy coach Roberto Sibaja.
The biggest example of the lack of communication in 2019 occurred on Sept. 6. Lucas Ontivero, who had been training with the first team but playing with OCB, injured his arm during the game, badly enough that he couldn’t lift it. Following the game, the team trainer spoke with Sibaja about how he’d be treated for the injury. Neither had the necessary information from the first team or knew how they would receive that information. If they didn’t have enough contact with the first team to talk about an injury, using first-team players in OCB was impossible.
The fact that Stajduhar, Bender, and DeZart entered the OCB team so easily shows how much more cohesive the club is with Muzzi in control of all levels. Last season, Orlando City head coach James O’Connor attended one OCB game and that was largely to heckle his former teammate Dennis Chin, who was playing for the Richmond Kickers. He left the game at halftime. Pareja, Muzzi, and Director of Soccer Ricardo Moreira were all in attendance Thursday night, notepads at the ready, to scout the three first-team players and the seven academy products who played in the game.
Orlando City is a team in a small market and one with admittedly shallow pockets. If they’re going to find the success fans desire, it’s largely going to come from development within the organization. The cohesiveness shown so far this season, and on display Thursday night, is what will lead the club in that direction.