Orlando City has seen some significant changes to the squad so far this off-season. Nani, Chris Mueller, and Daryl Dike have all departed, leaving gaps to be filled in the Lions’ attack. While it’s a tall task to prepare for the 2022 MLS season, the next month will show how much the Wilf family will invest in the club.
Since Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi came in prior to the 2019 season, Orlando City has been on the rise. After failing to qualify for the playoffs for its first five seasons in the league, the Lions have now qualified in two consecutive years.
However, there have been some major changes to the club recently. After buying into the team in February 2013, Flavio Augusto da Silva sold his operating rights to the Wilf family last year. It’s potentially a good move for the club as the billionaire owners of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings have the finances to push the club to a new level.
If the new owners want to show their investment in Orlando City, 2022 is the year to do it as the club lost much of its offensive attack following the 2021 MLS season. The team decided not to pick up the option of team captain Nani, 2018 MLS SuperDraft pick Mueller left for Hibernian FC in Scotland, and the club sold 2020 MLS SuperDraft pick Dike to West Bromwich Albion in England. The club has also yet to re-sign forward Alexandre Pato after an injury-filled first season in Orlando.
The trio of attacking departures and potential loss of Pato mean that the Lions currently only have two attacking players who started a significant number of games returning for the 2022 season. The club was able to come to an agreement for the return of Mauricio Pereyra and Homegrown Player Benji Michel will be back for his fourth year.
Even if you consider players who were not regular starters during this past season, the team is short on attacking players. Tesho Akindele, Alexander Alvarado, and Silvester van der Water are the only other forwards/wingers in the squad but none are an adequate replacement for Dike. Additionally, Matheus Aias is on loan with Real Oviedo through the end of the 2021-2022 La Liga season and the Spanish club has an option to buy. So the Brazilian may never return to Orlando and couldn’t get on the field when he was here before.
Nani and Pereyra were the only two Designated Players in the team during the 2021 MLS season. However, with Nani leaving, the club has only filled one of its three DP spots — potentially (the club doesn’t have to declare its DP slots until just before the 2022 season and there is a possibility that Pereyra’s salary could be paid down to the maximum salary level with allocation money). That means the club could potentially sign two or three high-profile players to add to its attack for the upcoming campaign.
Additionally, the sale of Dike for a reported $9.5 million is an influx of cash that can be used on high-priced players who could bolster the Orlando City offense. Even if the Wilf family decides not to spend its wealth on its newly acquired MLS club, the money from the Dike deal can help bring in a quality replacement.
While the Wilf family has the money to invest heavily in the team, it’s understandable if there’s some skepticism. The family already owns an NFL team — a more profitable organization than Orlando City. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the Wilfs would prefer to invest in that organization over a Florida-based soccer team. For this reason, many fans will be keeping a close eye on the upcoming roster moves.
The turn of the calendar means that the 2022 MLS season is quickly approaching. Preseason camps will be starting in mid-January, with the season officially beginning on Feb. 26. That gives Orlando City’s new owners about a month to show fans how much they plan to invest in the club going forward. The moves, or lack thereof, will likely impact the new owners’ relationship with the fanbase into the future.