Welcome to the first in a series of stories in which we’ll explore how Orlando City is situated entering the MLS SuperDraft later this month and the 2021 season as a whole. We’ll look at each position group and determine the relative strength of the team as we look ahead to the upcoming season. Today we’ll take a look at the goalkeeper position.
Orlando City finished the 2020 season with zero question marks at the goalkeeper position. Pedro Gallese’s addition last season was a key to the Lions’ success both in the MLS is Back Tournament and in Orlando’s sixth Major League Soccer campaign. Although El Pulpo didn’t manage many shutouts, he generally was called on about once per game to make a key save and he proved capable of doing just that.
Behind Gallese was former Orlando City and LA Galaxy starter Brian Rowe. While Rowe’s performances are generally described as “solid,” and he can occasionally make fantastic reaction saves, the veteran isn’t viewed by most as a top-level MLS goalkeeper. Whether that’s fair or not is a matter of opinion, but it’s the perception and you’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of extra points in 2019 that Rowe won for the team or prevented the Lions from dropping with a difficult, 1-v-1, gotta-have-it save.
The club had Mason Stajduhar as a third goalkeeper. The Homegrown was a good player to have at training as he continues to try to develop into an MLS regular. Stajduhar was loaned to OCB for a few games and was the first team’s bench goalkeeper a few times. He even went on loan with New York City FC after the season and sat the bench for a Concacaf Champions League match. But his next MLS appearance will be his first.
Orlando City’s Current Goalkeeper Situation
In their annual postseason contract update, the Lions announced they still have Gallese under contract for 2021 and have picked up Stajduhar’s option for the upcoming season as well. Rowe, however, is out of contract, although Orlando City announced that the club was in negotiations with “remaining players who are out of contract,” which essentially only meant Rowe based on the players listed in the press release.
Orlando is set at starter and Stajduhar will remain as a backup. The club picking up Stajduhar’s option means that the soccer operations staff remain confident that there is potential in the Homegrown Player, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they feel good about how ready he might be to start a string of important games when Gallese heads to Peru for Copa America or World Cup qualifying duty. Copa America is currently scheduled for June 11 to July 10 in Colombia and Argentina. Revised CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying windows are in late March, early June, early September, early October, and mid-November.
Orlando City’s Goalkeeper Outlook for 2021
Gallese is the clear cut starter and is among the best shot stoppers in the league. He gives Oscar Pareja a set-it-and-forget-it option in the lineup when Peru isn’t playing.
But it’s doubtful that the club will just roll with Gallese, Stajduhar, and emergency option Rodrigo Schlegel. If Rowe moves on, the Lions will need to find a capable backup goalkeeper for Gallese. El Pulpo will miss a month and a half starting in early June if the current Copa America and World Cup qualifying windows hold. He’ll also miss other games here and there for other windows, depending how the MLS schedule sets up. It has always happened this way for international players so it’s difficult to see that changing and Orlando will have to prepare for Gallese’s absences.
Stajduhar will likely be the third goalkeeper again unless the club’s technical staff believe he’s ready for the fulltime backup role. But even if they do, they’ll want a contingency plan, just in case. So if they can’t find another Rowe, they’ll at least want to bring in someone who has played some MLS matches. Austin FC recently took two options off the board by signing Brad Stuver and Andrew Tarbell. But someone of their ilk is the likely candidate to add if Rowe doesn’t return. The club is already spending an international slot on a goalkeeper, which is something a lot of teams won’t do, so it’s unlikely Orlando City would go outside the country for the third member of the club’s goalkeeping corps.
Even if the Lions add a goalkeeper in the draft later this month, it would be a smart move to find an experienced goalkeeper ready to play in a string of meaningful MLS games over several weeks. The ideal guy is Rowe, but it would be hard to blame him if he wants to move on to try to win a starting spot somewhere else.
I’d look for the club to try hard to hang onto Rowe — potentially even paying a little more than the Lions would like — and then move on to someone as close to his level as possible if it doesn’t pan out. If the Lions add a young goalkeeper in the draft, it would have to be somebody special to even make the roster, unless they send him (or Stajduhar) out on loan.