On the eve of this year’s MLS SuperDraft, which will be Orlando City’s ninth such crack at the roster-building mechanism, it’s worth looking back to check out the Lions’ history of hits and misses. The club has done a good job across multiple front office staffs over the years of identifying and developing talent as compared to other teams in Major League Soccer.
Some drafts are deeper than others and being in position to select players who become stars, starters, or even valuable depth players generally means a poor finish the year before. That’s certainly been part of Orlando City’s SuperDraft story. Being an expansion side in 2015 and then missing the playoffs for five consecutive seasons definitely put the Lions in a position to be successful in finding talent in the draft. But the club still had to make the right choices.
Let’s take a look at those selections and what became of those players.
Orlando City selected first overall thanks to the Lions’ card getting pulled out of the hopper first on the day of the Expansion Priority Draft back on Sept. 24, 2014 (and boy does that linked story take me back!). The Lions, as expected, took the consensus No. 1 prospect in the draft and it turned out to be a great decision.
Round 1 (No. 1 overall): F, Cyle Larin
The Lions’ first-ever draft selection was Canadian international forward Cyle Larin out of the University of Connecticut, who promptly set a league rookie record with a 17-goal season and was named MLS Rookie of the Year. He represented Orlando City in the 2016 MLS All-Star Game and scored the first MLS goal at Exploria Stadium in 2017. His two hat tricks in 2015 remain the only ones by a Lion since jumping to Major League Soccer. He scored 43 club goals and added six assists across three seasons before moving on to Besiktas for a fee reportedly north of $2.3 million in January of 2018. He currently plays for Club Brugge in Belgium’s top flight and has become Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer with 25, surpassing Dwayne De Rosario.
Round 2 (No. 22 overall): D, Conor Donovan
Orlando City picked North Carolina State star defender Conor Donovan in the second round of the 2015 draft. The U.S. youth international was a promising young center back and worked his way into his first MLS match by August, but suffered a terrible, season-ending ACL injury in that game. He was loaned to OCB in 2016 as he worked his way back, appearing in 15 matches with the Young Lions and scoring one goal. He never played another match for the first team while in Orlando, moving on after the 2017 season and catching on with the Houston Dynamo’s USL affiliate and even getting called up to the first team in Houston, but did not play. Donovan made his return to Orlando in the 2022 U.S. Open Cup final with Sacramento Republic FC and was a key part of his team’s successful Cinderella run to the championship game. It’s hard to say how his career might have unfolded had he not sustained that injury in his first MLS match.
Round 2 (No. 25 overall): F, Akeil Barrett
University of Tulsa product Akeil Barrett is a name that may be forgotten by many Orlando City fans, but the Lions made him a second-round pick in 2015. Orlando got the second pick in the round by swapping Mark Sherrod’s rights to the San Jose Earthquakes. He never played in a match as he was waived by Orlando City on Feb. 12, 2015, along with veteran Brazilian defender Gustavo. He went on to play with the Jacksonville Armada in 2015 and the Jamaican bounced from team to team through his eight appearances with the USL’s Tulsa Roughnecks in 2019.
Round 3 (No. 43 overall): GK, Earl Edwards, Jr.
The Lions selected “The Landlord” in the third round of their first draft and got good value at that position. Edwards was a backup goalkeeper for the Lions through 2018 and has remained in MLS ever since, serving as a depth player for the New England Revolution last season. The UCLA product appeared in 16 regular-season matches with the Lions and backstopped the team in the U.S. Open Cup eight times, keeping a couple of clean sheets and winning a memorable 10-player penalty shootout against the Charleston Battery in 2015. For such a late pick, the Lions got great production out of Edwards.
Round 4 (No. 63): F, Sydney Rivera
The team’s final selection in 2015 was Old Dominion forward Sydney Rivera. While he never appeared for Orlando City, he was signed and then loaned to the team’s top developmental affiliate at the time, Louisville City FC. He had two stints in Louisville and then was loaned to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. The team released him in November of 2015. Capped 10 times with the Puerto Rican national team, Rivera went on to play two seasons for Puerto Rico FC and has bounced around between North American sides and teams in Vietnam and Bangladesh. He’s made five appearances with USL League Two side Morris Elite SC since 2021, scoring two goals.
The 2016 MLS SuperDraft produced a couple of notable players but not necessarily with Orlando. The best player the Lions took that year went on to switch positions while trialing with Toronto FC and completely turned his career around on both the club and international levels. Another player taken has become one of the best USL Championship goal scorers. But the Lions ultimately didn’t reap much in the way of rewards on the pitch with the first team from the club’s second draft.
Round 1 (No. 7 overall): MF, Richie Laryea
Now known as a dynamic Canadian international fullback, the Lions selected Laryea out of the University of Akron to be an attacking midfielder. He was loaned to OCB for the 2016 season and provided just two assists in 23 appearances. Laryea started the 2017 season with the Young Lions and worked his way into the first team by the end of June. He debuted in a loss at the Chicago Fire and played in 12 games with Orlando City. He didn’t score and attempted only three shots, but he did bag an assist. He managed three goals and two assists in 12 games with OCB that year. He played in nine more matches with the Lions in 2018 without producing a goal or an assist. Orlando declined his contract option after the 2018 season and he tried out with hometown Toronto FC the following preseason, earning a contract in March of that year. Revisionists are quick to condemn the team for letting him go, but maybe Greg Vanney should be credited with seeing Laryea’s potential as a fullback. Laryea has become a success at the position, earning 37 caps with Canada and scoring eight goals in 77 appearances with Toronto. He was signed by Nottingham Forest in January of 2022 but only played in five games with the EFL side before being loaned back to TFC.
Round 1 (No. 13 overall): F, Hadji Barry
Orlando City traded up from the No. 32 spot by sending that pick plus some Targeted Allocation Money to D.C. United for the No. 13 selection. With that pick, the Lions took UCF forward Hadji Barry, who had played for the club’s U-23 side. Barry ended up playing in 11 matches (four starts) across two seasons with the Lions. He didn’t score and attempted only two shots, but he did notch an assist. He was more productive with OCB, where he played in 11 games in 2016, scoring four goals and adding two assists. Barry scored a total of 14 goals with OCB in 29 matches over two seasons before he was let go. He signed in 2018 with the Swope Park Rangers and scored 17 goals in 33 games before playing in Israel and Canada in 2019. He returned to the U.S. in 2020 with North Carolina FC and managed one goal in 15 games but his career took a positive turn when he joined Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC in 2021, where he produced an impressive 41 goals in 62 matches before moving on to Future FC in Egypt for what has been reported as the largest transfer fee in USL Championship history.
Round 3 (No. 48 overall): MF, Antonio Matarazzo
After trading out of the second round, the Lions chose Columbia University midfielder Antonio Matarazzo in the third round in 2016. Matarazzo did not get an MLS contract from the Lions but he was signed to play in the USL with OCB, where he made eight appearances before being released at the end of the season. He caught on briefly with New York Cosmos B in 2017 but did not play and apparently went to work for City Football Group.
Round 4 (No. 68 overall): F, Tobenna Uzo
The Lions finished out their 2016 draft by selecting Coastal Carolina forward Tobenna Uzo, a 6-foot-4 Nigerian who ultimately was not signed by the club. Uzo went on to play two seasons with lower division Myrtle Beach Mutiny before catching on with Colorado Springs Switchbacks FC through 2018. He then spent two years with FC Tulsa and split the 2021 season between FC Arizona and FC Tucson.
Orlando City traded out of the first round in 2017 when the club acquired fullback Donny Toia from Atlanta United in exchange for the No. 8 overall pick. That pick ended up being Julian Gressel, so let’s not dwell on it because…Toia for Gressel, WTF? The Lions also sent a second-round pick in 2017 to the Houston Dynamo for fullback Corey Ashe. The Dynamo took goalkeeper Jake McGuire from Tulsa with that selection, so at least it wasn’t someone who has been an MLS mainstay.
The team’s third-round pick at No. 52 went to Toronto FC when Joe Bendik started 75% of Orlando’s games in 2016. As a result, the Lions finally picked at No. 64 due to acquiring a pick from the New York Red Bulls in the Aurelien Collin deal. Orlando City also sent the club’s fourth-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft to Real Salt Lake in exchange for the rights to midfielder Yordany Alvarez, leaving the Lions just one pick that year. All of this led to the 2017 draft being perhaps Orlando’s least productive one to date.
Round 3 (No. 64 overall): MF, Danny Deakin
The Lions chose South Carolina midfielder Danny Deakin with their first pick in 2017 but it took a long time to get to that selection — all the way at the bottom of the third round. The England native did not appear in a game with Orlando City as he was sent to OCB on loan and that became a permanent move in April of 2017. Deakin appeared in 20 matches with the Young Lions and scored one goal before going to play for Detroit City for a couple of seasons. He returned to England in 2019 to play for Sheffield FC and has since gone on to play for Hallam in the ninth level of English football and Rossington Main FC, in England’s 10th division.
Back in the top 10 picks, Orlando City got plenty of production from the 2018 SuperDraft, even if it mainly came from the club’s only pick that year. The Lions traded out of the second and fourth rounds in the 2018 draft back in 2016 to acquire the MLS rights to Mikey Ambrose and Tony Rocha. What sucked about this is that the Lions had already lost Ambrose in the MLS Expansion Draft to Atlanta by the time this pick came back around. Rocha hung around Orlando as a depth player through 2018 but played more matches for OCB (33 across two seasons) than he did for the senior Lions (23 across three seasons). Orlando also traded out of the third round in 2018 to acquire fullback R.J. Allen from New York City FC.
Round 1 (No. 6 overall): F, Chris Mueller
Orlando City selected the Money Badger sixth overall out of the University of Wisconsin in 2018 and that turned out to be a pretty smart decision. The team got four years out of Mueller and he made 112 appearances with the Lions, scoring 21 goals and adding 24 assists. He helped the team reach the playoffs twice and his 2020 season was spectacular, as he scored a career-high 10 goals and added seven assists. His production dropped in an unhappy 2021 season as he was not re-signed and wasn’t allowed to leave and join his new club, Hibernian in Scotland, until after the season. Mueller didn’t last long at Hibs and returned to MLS in 2022 with the Chicago Fire.
The Lions again did well to identify talent in 2019, although the best player Orlando City selected that year was lost for nothing and again became a pivotal player elsewhere. The 2019 draft also marked the first time the Lions passed on a selection, opting not to select a player with the 96th and final pick of the draft in the fourth round. The Lions also sent their natural third-round pick in the 2019 draft to the LA Galaxy in exchange for Homegrown forward Jose Villarreal, who did not work out in Orlando, to put it mildly. Villarreal made three appearances with the Lions and has not played in MLS since. His last top-flight club was Global FC in the Philippines in 2020.
Round 1 (No. 3 overall): F, Santiago Patiño
Orlando City opted to select forward Santiago Patiño out of Florida International University with the No. 3 overall pick in 2019. The strong, 6-foot-1 Colombian looked the part coming out of college. One of the reasons the club selected him is that the Lions felt he should have qualified as a Homegrown Player, but he did not have enough time in the academy to qualify. The Orlando native played in the NPSL with Kraze United and was named the Orange County Athlete of the Year as a senior at Freedom High School. Patiño appeared in 11 games (three starts) his rookie season and scored two goals and added an assist. It seemed like a promising first year, but he played just twice in 2020 and did not attempt a shot in eight total minutes of playing time. The Lions loaned Patiño to Cimarrones de Sonora in August of 2020 and declined his option after the 2020 season. Patiño signed with San Antonio FC in January of 2021 and has scored 19 goals in 34 matches in the USL Championship, helping lead his team to the league title in 2022. He was named the MVP of the USL-C final after scoring twice and winning a penalty in a 3-1 win over Louisville City.
Round 2 (No. 27 overall): D, Kamal Miller
The player everyone will remember from Orlando’s 2019 SuperDraft is Canadian defender Kamal Miller. The Lions selected him out of Syracuse University in the second round and he showed promise right away, but there were some severe growing pains in his 16 appearances (14 starts) with costly turnovers. He did not score a goal or assist on one and attempted only one off-target shot in 2019. He played in 12 more games in 2020 (nine starts) and again did not score or register an assist. He managed four shots in his second season, but none were on target. He seemed like a solid player but a poor fit for Orlando City’s system and that proved to be true once he moved to a team with a three-man back line. The Lions lost him for nothing in the MLS Expansion Draft to Austin, which then flipped him to Montreal for a surprisingly huge haul — perhaps more than Orlando would have taken to simply trade him prior to that year’s Expansion Draft. He has not only become a star for Montreal but has been a solid player for the Canadian Men’s National Team since departing Orlando. That’s a hard pill to swallow but it’s unlikely Oscar Pareja would have switched to a three-man back line and had a tendency to get beaten in the air on crosses while he was a Lion.
Round 2 (No. 38 overall): MF, Tommy Madden
This is legitimately someone who might make readers ask, “Who?” The Lions acquired this selection from D.C. United in exchange for Earl Edwards Jr. in December of 2018 but ultimately the pick didn’t work out. Orlando selected Madden out of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte but released the midfielder just 15 days later. The Maryland native signed with New Mexico United in the USL Championship for the 2019 season and made 13 appearances. There is literally nothing in his Wikipedia entry after that. It’s fair to say that this was a pretty big miss by the Lions.
Round 3 (No. 59 overall): D, Scott DeVoss
Orlando grabbed the No. 59 pick in the 2019 SuperDraft from the Vancouver Whitecaps on Dec. 9, 2018 in exchange for fullback/midfielder PC. The team didn’t do much with the selection, using it to draft Denver defender Scott DeVoss. The Lions waived DeVoss early in preseason and he ended up signing with Hartford Athletic but then going on loan to FC Tucson where he made just five appearances.
The Lions bounced back with a stellar first-round pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, selecting fan favorite Daryl Dike (more on that below). The club made five selections in total before passing on making a selection at No. 83 overall in the fourth round. Although only one player really shone from this draft and only two ever saw the field for the first team, the 2020 draft has to be seen as an overall success.
Round 1 (No. 5 overall): F, Daryl Dike
The Lions could hardly have been happier with the way their top pick worked out in 2020. Orlando City selected Dike out of the University of Virginia with the fifth overall pick and all he did was go on to score 18 goals and add seven assists in just 35 regular-season games. He was big, strong, good with his feet, smart, and his career arc worked out well for the Lions, who sold him to West Bromwich Albion for $10 million in January of this year. Sure, it ruined New Year’s Day, and we would have loved to have had Dike for more than just two seasons, but he’s got a chance to become the Lions’ biggest legacy player to date if he continues to produce in England. He went on loan to Barnsley in 2021 between MLS seasons and scored nine goals in 19 games. This year, injuries have limited him to six games for the Baggies, but he scored a goal and added an assist on his return just a week ago. Hopefully he’ll have a stellar second half, get sold to a bigger club, and make Orlando City even more money through the sell-on percentage the club retained.
Round 2 (No. 31 overall): MF, Joey DeZart
Orlando went with Wake Forest defensive midfielder Joey DeZart in the second round in 2020 and signed him to a first-team contract on Feb. 21, 2020. DeZart spent three seasons as a backup with the Lions, playing in 29 games (11 starts) without a goal or assist, and he seemed like a decent depth player until seemingly falling out of favor in 2022. He spent much of the year with OCB and didn’t necessarily seem to take well to playing in for the third-division side. He only played in one match with the senior Lions in a crowded central midfield in 2022 and made the team sheet only 13 times in total. DeZart played seven games with OCB in 2022 (all starts) but did not score a goal or assist on one, attempting two shots. His season was cut short due to a knee injury and his option was declined after the 2022 season.
Round 2 (No. 39 overall): D, Jonathan Dean
The Lions found themselves with an extra second-round pick in 2020 after acquiring it from New England in exchange for the No. 11 pick in the 2019 MLS Waiver Draft. The Revs used that pick to select goalkeeper Jeff Caldwell. The Lions chose UCF defender Jonathan Dean with the selection but released him six weeks later during the preseason. Dean caught on with USL Championship side Birmingham Legion and has scored four goals in 81 games since the start of the 2020 season.
Round 2 (No. 44 overall): GK, Austin Aviza
What? Another second-round pick? Yes, the Lions acquired another second-round selection in the 2020 draft from Minnesota United in a deal that also brought Orlando the No. 4 spot in the MLS Waiver Order in exchange for two fourth-round selections in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft and the No. 1 spot in the MLS Waiver Order, which the Loons used to select Osvaldo Alonso (now with Atlanta United). Orlando used the pick on Providence goalkeeper Austin Aviza. The Lions opted not to sign Aviza to a first-team contract but did sign him to a deal with OCB, where he appeared in 11 matches for the Young Lions in 2020. He was released after the season and signed with the Richmond Kickers in 2021. According to Wikipedia, he made one appearance with Richmond and there’s nothing in there about his soccer career afterwards.
Round 3 (No. 57 overall): D, Nick O’Callaghan
Another player who ultimately never signed with the first team, FIU left back Nick O’Callaghan was Orlando’s third-round pick in 2020. Like Aviza, O’Callaghan signed an OCB deal for 2020 and he made six appearances with the Young Lions before being released after the season. He caught on with South Georgia Tormenta in USL League One in 2021 and has one goal in 23 appearances since joining that club.
Ultimately, the 2021 draft was a bit of a disappointment, although it looked good on paper at the time. The Lions took a pair of players from the 2019 NCAA championship Georgetown team that had defeated Dike’s Virginia Cavaliers in a penalty shootout. The team had three selections in the first round that year but, unfortunately, none of them have played for the first team and two of them are already out of the organization.
Round 1 (No. 8 overall): F, Derek Dodson
The Lions selected Dodson eighth overall on the strength of a successful college career and he seemed like the next big forward to be drafted by the Lions. Orlando got the pick from the Portland Timbers for $100,000 in General Allocation Money. Dodson returned to Georgetown to play during the delayed college season, where his Hoyas were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the quarterfinals by Marshall. Dodson signed with Orlando in April to a one-year deal with a couple of option years. He did not make a team sheet for the Lions and ended up getting loaned to Hartford Athletic in the USL Championship, where he made 22 appearances in 2021, scoring five times. The Lions surprisingly declined his option after the 2021 season and he signed with Memphis 901 for 2022, where he scored just three goals in 28 matches this past season. He has since signed with the Charleston Battery.
Round 1 (No. 19 overall): D, Rio Hope-Gund
Orlando City snapped up Dodson’s college teammate, defender Rio Hope-Gund, with the No. 19 overall pick in 2021. That selection came from the Philadelphia Union in a trade in exchange for the Homegrown Player rights to Nathan Harriel. Hope-Gund, like Dodson, had a solid collegiate career at Georgetown, and for the most part handled Dike well in the NCAA title game. He too returned to Georgetown for the Hoyas’ spring season, but he signed with the Lions to a one-year deal with three one-year options in April of 2021. Unlike Dodson, Hope-Gund made the team sheet several times (17), but he never made it onto the pitch for Orlando City and the club declined his option after the season concluded. Hope-Gund signed with Loudoun United in the USL Championship prior to the 2022 season and played in 20 matches this past season.
Round 1 (No. 22 overall): D, Brandon Hackenberg
The Lions went defense again with their natural selection in the first round. Orlando City picked Penn State defender Brandon Hackenberg, the brother of former PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg. Like the team’s other first-round picks, Hackenberg returned to college for his team’s spring season in 2021. Once his college career was over, Hackenberg signed a deal with OCB in MLS NEXT Pro for the 2022 season. He scored one goal in 16 appearances with the Young Lions in 2022 and was an emergency option for the first team when injuries and suspensions hit the Lions’ back line.
Round 2 (No. 49 overall): GK, Andrew Pannenberg
Orlando City selected Wake Forest goalkeeper Andrew Pannenberg with the club’s natural second-round pick in 2021. He was just the second goalkeeper selected in the draft that year but he never signed with Orlando after a brief appearance in preseason camp. He caught on with the USL’s Colorado Springs Switchbacks, making just two appearances before his option was declined after the 2021 season. He made six appearances with Houston Dynamo 2 in 2022, after signing with that club in February of this year.
It does not appear that time will be kind to Orlando City’s 2022 draft. The team drafted three players and signed two of them, but only one to an MLS deal, and got very few appearances overall on the first team from its draft picks — just three by Jack Lynn.
Round 1 (No. 18 overall) F, Jack Lynn
The Lions made Notre Dame forward Jack Lynn their top pick in 2022 at No. 18. Lynn made four total first-team appearances, with three of those coming in the regular season and one in the U.S. Open Cup. He played a grand total of five first-team minutes with no goals, assists, or shots. However, he was a solid player for OCB, where he was sent to get minutes and develop his game. Lynn set a new OCB record for goals in a season, finding the net 15 times in 18 appearances. He also went on loan to San Antonio FC at the end of the season and was part of that club’s championship-winning roster, although he did not play in the final. Lynn made five appearances with San Antonio but did not score. It looked to be 50/50 on whether the Lions would pick up Lynn’s option for 2023 but they did that and so his career in purple will have a bit more time to develop.
Round 2 (No. 46 overall): D, Nathan Dossantos
Orlando City selected Marshall defender Nathan Dossantos in the second round of the 2022 SuperDraft but did not sign him after giving him a look in preseason. He signed with the USL Championship’s Pittsburgh Riverhounds prior to the 2022 season and made 22 appearances with the club without recording a goal.
Round 3 (No. 74 overall): F/D, Nick Taylor
With their last pick of the 2022 SuperDraft, the Lions again went to the UCF well, selecting Nick Taylor. Taking Knights hasn’t worked out spectacularly yet for Orlando City, but Taylor did sign an MLS NEXT Pro contract to play with OCB in 2022. He scored one goal in 22 appearances for the Young Lions in his first professional season.
That’s where things stand for Orlando City after eight MLS SuperDrafts. There have been several spectacular hits for the club (Larin, Dike, Mueller), a couple who worked out well for other teams (Layrea, Miller), and a few solid depth players. There have also been some pretty big misses, but that’s the nature of the SuperDraft. Roster building in Major League Soccer favors academies and signing players from overseas for the most part, but there is still excellent value in the draft for teams who can find it. There’s always some luck involved based on who the teams above you select or which teams make moves to climb to higher drafting positions, but talent identification has been something Orlando has been proficient with over the years.
Hopefully the team will follow up with another success after a pair of subpar drafts. The Lions will select No. 6 overall due to Chicago having to acquire Mueller’s MLS rights, as well as at No. 17 with the club’s natural first-round pick. Orlando also has the No. 46 overall pick in Round 2. The Lions don’t have a third-round pick, having previously traded that to Montreal.