Orlando City will take part in its ninth MLS SuperDraft on Wednesday evening as it looks to strengthen its squad to surpass the first round of the MLS Cup playoffs. Much of the team is already in place as Orlando brought in and re-signed some pieces during the off-season. But the draft allows the team to add younger players and build for the future. So what will Orlando City do with its picks?
Once the best way to bring in young talent, the draft doesn’t hold the same importance it once did. The best college-aged players today join academies at younger ages, allowing them to sign Homegrown deals and skip the event. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find good players. It just means you need higher picks to get them.
The Lions have two first-round picks this year, allowing them to potentially add two contributing players to the roster. In addition to their natural first-round selection — the 17th overall pick — the club also obtained the sixth overall pick from the Chicago Fire in a trade involving former Lion Chris Mueller.
The Lions are in a great position to prepare their team for next year. The starting lineup is pretty much set, with the possible exception of an attacking midfielder. Orlando bought down Mauricio Pereyra’s new contract to open up another Designated Player spot, so the Lions can bring in a high-priced player.
When it comes to the draft, the Lions are more likely to improve their depth with their two first-round picks. The sixth pick is high enough that the club can find someone to contribute this coming season. The 17th pick might need some time with Orlando City B first, but could produce in the future.
The 2023 MLS SuperDraft is pretty deep in terms of defensive players, but that’s where there aren’t many problems for Orlando City. The only member of the back line not returning is Joao Moutinho, who was out of contract and went to Italy. But the club prepared for that expected move by acquiring Luca Petrasso from Toronto FC. Petrasso could take the starting role at left back, but it’s unknown at this time whether Luiz Muzzi and Oscar Pareja feel he’s ready to step into a starting role.
The three positions I see the club looking at are forward, attacking midfield, and defensive midfield. With the exception of attacking midfield, everyone in those starting positions are returning. However, there isn’t much behind the starters and the club can definitely use depth at those positions.
Let’s take a closer look at why Orlando City might target players in these positions.
The Lions currently only have one dependable striker — Ercan Kara. The Designated Player led the team with 11 goals in the regular season and will likely start in that role when the season starts. However, the depth at the forward position is weak after the Austrian.
Benji Michel is a Homegrown product but hasn’t produced much as a forward and he remains unsigned as of this writing. Pareja has mainly used him late in games to provide energy and spread the defense. He’s only scored 19 goals in 118 games so you can’t depend on him to provide a lot of offense. The club made Michel a bona-fide offer so the club has rights to him within MLS, but until he signs a new deal, he’s not part of the 2023 roster.
The only other natural forward currently on the team is Jack Lynn, the club’s first-round pick last season. He was taken 18th overall out of Notre Dame and spent most of the season with OCB. While he had a historic season with the Young Lions, he barely saw the field for the first team or during his loan to the USL Championship late in the season. Unless the coaching staff sees improvement next year, it’s unlikely he’ll see much more time.
Orlando City has been more successful at finding quality strikers in the draft than any other position. In fact, the team’s two best draft picks all-time were Cyle Larin in 2015 and Daryl Dike in 2020. However, it’s less likely a forward will be taken than other positions as the draft isn’t very deep up top. Orlando won’t be looking for a starter anyway, as that’s likely Kara’s role. If the club is looking for a 20-goal scorer for the upcoming season, the team is more likely to use the DP spot on one.
If Orlando City can ink starting goalkeeper Pedro Gallese to a new deal, and Gallese has said publicly that he intends to stay, the only need in the starting lineup is in the attacking midfield. The club currently has three outside midfielders who can start in Facundo Torres, Gaston Gonzalez (once he recovers from his knee injury), and Ivan Angulo. But Junior Urso left to return to Brazil, leaving a void in the middle.
Pereyra was originally in that role but Pareja moved him to the number eight role, in which he excelled last season. The club also lost Niko Gioacchini in the MLS Expansion Draft to St. Louis City SC and signed Felipe Martins. However, Martins is 32 and recently had his option declined by Austin FC, so he’s not a long-term option.
Similar to the forward position, there aren’t a lot of options in the draft for attacking midfielders. The club might attempt to start Torres there, as he’s probably the team’s most skillful player. But the team would still need to add some depth behind him. Additionally, he’s reportedly gained interest from Arsenal FC in England, so there’s no guarantee he’ll be in purple for the upcoming 2023 season.
Box-to-Box or Defensive Midfield
The Lions used to be pretty deep at the number six and eight positions, but they’ve lost that depth pretty quickly. In July, the club traded Sebas Mendez to Los Angeles FC for General Allocation Money. Orlando decided to decline Joey DeZart’s option following the season and traded Andres Perea to the Philadelphia Union at the beginning of this month.
The starters in those positions are set in stone, as Pereyra and Cesar Araujo are among the best in the league at their roles, although Pereyra is sometimes slow to transition to defense and still could be moved back to the attacking midfield. But, like the other positions mentioned, there isn’t much depth behind them. The club brought in Peruvian defensive midfielder Wilder Cartagena on loan midway through the season with an option for another year. The club picked up that option, keeping Cartagena in Orlando through at least 2023.
Another potential problem is the play of Araujo. The 21-year-old had an outstanding 2022 season and could be a target for European clubs if he plays as well next season. Similar to Torres, that could make it hard for the Lions to keep him for the whole year or beyond this season.
Since there are some good defensive players in this year’s draft, the club could look to improve the depth at that position. The Lions could also find someone to provide more depth behind Pereyra. The 32-year-old captain isn’t getting any younger and won’t be around forever. If the club does find a box-to-box midfielder for the future, that player can’t learn from anyone much better in MLS than the Uruguayan.
These are the three positions I think Orlando City is most likely to target in Wednesday’s draft. Which positions do you think the club should target and are there any specific players you want the club to select? Let us know in the comments below.