As delays continued in the ratification of a new collective bargaining agreement between Major League Soccer and the MLS Player’s Association, it became increasingly unlikely that the MLS season would kick off the weekend of April 3 as originally planned. The fact that the CBA was only ratified earlier this week combined with the Concacaf Champions League also starting in April, meant that MLS eventually decided to delay the start of the regular season until April 17. While it’s a little disappointing for fans like myself who were excited about seeing domestic soccer as soon as possible, the two-week delay should very much work in Orlando City’s favor.
For one thing, it gives the Lions a bit more wiggle room when it comes to filling out the club’s roster. Earlier this week it looked like the squad was going to be a little closer to the finished article, with the news that OCSC had submitted an offer for Brazilian forward Alexandre Pato. However, news came late Wednesday night that Pato had not responded by the deadline to the club’s offer, leaving the front office still with work to do when it comes to bringing in a few more players. Fortunately, there’s still a good amount of time for that to happen. The MLS transfer window doesn’t close until May 4, but more importantly, the extra two weeks gives any late winter/early spring signings more time to get into training and start building chemistry with their new teammates.
The pursuit of Pato suggests that Orlando is in the market for a veteran attacker to pair with its stable of relatively young forwards. It also wouldn’t be shocking for the team to try to bring in another creative attacking midfielder, as there’s a pretty big drop-off when Mauricio Pereyra isn’t on the field. If those signings do end up taking place, the new boys will have lots of time to settle into their new surroundings.
The other area the delay could prove advantageous for the Lions concerns Olympic qualifiers. The qualifying tournament kicks off on March 18, and will come to a close on March 30 in Mexico. With the original start date of the 2021 season, any players who were called up for the tournament would have missed the beginning of the season, as they would be required to quarantine upon rejoining their club teams. That could have proved problematic for the Lions, as there’s a decent chance that Andres Perea and Benji Michel will be part of the team that goes south of the border.
Add in that Daryl Dike may very well be on loan at Barnsely until the end of the Championship season, and the Lions were originally facing a situation where they might be a bit thin at forward for the first two weeks of the season (although the club does hold the right to recall Dike). Perea’s absence would have been less pressing of an issue with Junior Urso, Sebas Mendez, Uri Rosell, and Joey DeZart all capable of providing similar qualities that Perea does. Still, the young midfielder appeared in every regular season and playoff game during 2020, and will likely feature heavily in 2021 if last year was anything to go by. While Orlando has good depth at his position, he still would have been missed.
Thankfully, the team won’t be finding itself in that scenario. While the duo will miss a decent chunk of preseason if called up, they they’ll join back up with their teammates with some competitive minutes under their belts, which should help them hit the ground running after they finish quarantining.
In the end, everyone wins. Teams playing in the CCL get a bit more room to breathe, Orlando gets more time to conduct any transfer business, and the Lions will get any Olympic players back in time for the beginning of the season. What a difference two weeks can make.