The new year brings a lot of excitement in American soccer. January includes United States national team camps, the NWSL Draft, and the MLS SuperDraft. With all the news surrounding Orlando City and the Orlando Pride, it can be easy to forget about the club’s third professional team.
In 2016, Orlando City launched a second team for the Lions that played in the second division United Soccer League. After two years, the team went on hiatus for 2018 and joined the new third division league, USL League One, for 2019. Following the 2020 season, OCB dropped out of the USL setup entirely, presumably to join the long-rumored, but still unannounced, MLS reserve league in 2021.
Back in October, reports surfaced that MLS was going to launch the new reserve league this year. Those reports seemed to be substantiated when three MLS teams dropped out of the USL. Additionally, Minnesota United announced during its youth restructuring that it would be joining a new MLS reserve league.
While the plan originally was to start the new league in 2021, there are now obstacles that will impact if it can actually happen. MLS Commissioner Don Garber recently said that the COVID-19 pandemic will end up costing MLS around $1 billion. Since the league is already financing a new youth setup and losing a significant amount of money, it’s possible that it could put the new league on the shelf for now.
Should the new reserve league be postponed, it puts Orlando City in a difficult position. OCB has become a critical part of the club’s structure. A majority of the players last year came from the club’s academy. That followed Jordan Bender making his way from the second team to the first team, becoming the third player in club history to do so.
Orlando City has invested greatly in OCB over the past year. The team joined the first team at the new training facility and played its games next door at Osceola County Stadium. A lot of that comes down to the belief of the Orlando City brass in developing their own talent.
If the reserve league is postponed, OCB likely could go back to USL League One. The league currently has 12 teams after North Carolina FC dropped down to the third tier Sunday, but there’s no guarantee they’ll all make it through 2021. Four of the teams are MLS developmental sides and the others might not have the finances to make it through another year during the pandemic. The league would likely be willing to accept any team wanting to join to keep the venture afloat.
However, having a backup league doesn’t guarantee the club would join. While not as significant as the first team, there is a cost in running a developmental squad. Even with low or non-existent salaries, it costs money for stadium upkeep, equipment, and additional staffing.
In all likelihood, Orlando City games will feature a significantly reduced capacity for the 2021 MLS season. That will decrease the amount of revenue the team obtains for the second consecutive year. One of the cost-cutting measures could be OCB.
If OCB doesn’t take the field in 2021, it would be a blow to the club’s youth development. Homegrown Players like Moises Tablante, Jose Quintero, and Wilfredo Rivera have shown the talent coming from the academy. Without OCB, those who don’t sign first-team contracts will head off to college where they may or may not play. Staying with OCB would guarantee playing time and further development.
Right now, this is all speculation. There has been no news on the reserve league since October and much has changed since then. The new vaccine could put clubs and leagues in a better position by the summer. But positive cases could also continue to rise, causing clubs and leagues to go under. Only time will tell the future of an integral part of Orlando City SC.