Breaking into the first team can be a difficult task for any rookie. They’re moving from the amateur ranks, where most players are around their age, to a fully professional league where they’ll be playing with seasoned players. Most first-round draft picks have a good chance to get on the field, but Orlando City’s 2021 draft class will have the most difficult time in club history.
The 2021 MLS SuperDraft was Orlando City’s seventh since moving up to the top division in 2015. Four of the previous six drafts saw at least one player make a significant impact on the first team. The two exceptions were in 2016 and 2017.
Orlando City selected two players in the first round of the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. Richie Laryea was selected with the seventh pick and Hadji Barry followed with the 13th overall pick. Both players were good enough to contribute to the first team and did so on occasion. However, the team put together in 2014 and 2015 was still largely intact so it was difficult for them to get minutes on the field.
The Lions only had one selection in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and that was a third-round pick. Danny Deakin was selected with the 64th overall pick but third-rounders rarely make the first team. So it wasn’t a surprise that no one from that draft class was on the opening day roster.
Four drafts saw selections make significant impacts during their rookie season. Cyle Larin was selected in 2015, Chris Mueller in 2018, Kamal Miller in 2019, and Daryl Dike in 2020. Three of those four were key members of the 2020 playoff run, with only Larin missing after he decided to move to Europe following the 2017 MLS season.
Orlando City found itself with several high picks in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft. A trade with the Philadelphia Union for Nathan Harriel, whose territorial rights were held by Orlando City but had joined the Union academy, gave the Lions the 19th overall pick. They also made a trade with the Portland Timbers to acquire the eighth overall pick and held their natural selection at 22.
The problem for this year’s young rookies is that there are few ways for them to get on the field. Orlando City is in its best situation since joining MLS and has brought back most of the senior squad from last year. The Lions even added Alexandre Pato who could find himself sliding into the starting lineup.
While unlikely, the only player they could lose before the start of the 2021 season is Dike, who is currently on loan at Barnsley FC. The English second division club has an option to buy but the price is reportedly at $20 million — well above what the club would be able to afford.
Trading up to get Georgetown forward Derek Dodson, who was likely to go high, was a good decision in case the club did lose Dike. Dodson ended up being the third forward taken off the board, following Wake Forest’s Calvin Harris and Clemson’s Kimarni Smith. However, the later addition of Pato will see Dodson move down the pecking order behind the experienced Brazilian.
The other selections in this year’s draft were Georgetown defender Rio Hope-Gund, Penn State defender Brandon Hackenberg, and Wake Forest goalkeeper Andrew Pannenberg. While Hope-Gund and Hackenberg could see some minutes following the departure of Miller in the expansion draft and the departure of Alex De John, Pannenberg will face an uphill battle behind Pedro Gallese, Brandon Austin, and Mason Stajduhar.
There are fewer spots available for the 2021 Orlando City draft class than any year in the club’s history. Despite drafting three players in the first round, it’s difficult to see any of them making a significant impact on the first team unless the team suffers injuries.