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Orlando City Aims for More Success from Homegrown Signings

Orlando City recently signed Favian Loyola as the Lions continue to search for more Homegrown production on the first team.

MLS: US Open Cup-New York Red Bulls at Orlando City SC Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Orlando City signed Favian Loyola to a Homegrown Player contract through at least 2025. The 17-year-old forward came out of the club’s academy and spent last season with Orlando City B in MLS NEXT Pro. He’s the 13th Homegrown signing in club history and the Lions will hope he can make an impact for the first team.

Major League Soccer created the Homegrown Player Rule in 2008 to entice clubs to develop young talent. The rule allowed clubs to maintain the rights of players that came through the club’s academy or grew up in the local area. Prior to the implementation of the rule, all players entering the league had to go through one of the various allocation systems.

Orlando City got off to a fast start signing Homegrown Players, though the first two didn’t come from the club’s youth ranks. The first was Tommy Redding, who signed on March 11, 2014, and Tyler Turner followed on Sept. 1, 2014. The two were at the IMG Academy with the U.S. U-18 National Team at the time and weren’t developed by the club.

The first players to sign Homegrown deals who were actually developed in part by the club were midfielder Harrison Heath, who signed on Oct. 27, 2014, and goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar, who signed on Nov. 9, 2015. Heath played for Orlando City and its U-23 team during the club’s USL Pro era while his father, Adrian, coached the Lions. Stajduhar started with the Clearwater Chargers before joining Orlando City’s academy.

Those four players were the only Homegrown signings in the first four years of the club’s MLS existence. However, that changed on Dec. 18, 2018 when Orlando City named former FC Dallas executive Luiz Muzzi as executive vice president of soccer operations. While in Dallas, Muzzi worked under Fernando Clavijo and was a part of an organization that developed several Homegrown Players, including Kellyn Acosta, Paxton Pomykal, Jesus Ferreira, Bryan Reynolds, Reggie Cannon, and Ricardo Pepi.

Just weeks after Muzzi’s arrival, Benji Michel was signed to a Homegrown contract. The forward came through the club’s academy before attending college at the University of Portland. In December of 2019, the club signed midfielder David Loera, who attended NC State following his time in the academy, and teenage midfielder Jordan Bender. Raul Aguilera also joined the first team on a Homegrown deal after finishing school in North Carolina, signing on April 5, 2021. All three players spent time with OCB at some point before joining the first team.

Michel and Stajduhar have made some notable contributions to the first team, but the same can’t be said for Loera, Bender, and Aguilera. All three players left the club following the 2021 MLS season.

The Lions haven’t had the same success as FC Dallas at finding first-team regulars from the academy, but they’re still trying. The club currently has seven Homegrown players on its roster, including Michael Halliday, Wilfredo Rivera, Thomas Williams, Alex Freeman, Michel, Stajduhar, and Loyola. Halliday has appeared in 15 matches in all competitions with the first team and Williams has played in five, but Rivera and Freeman have yet to make their senior team debuts.

An advantage the current players have is the existence of OCB. Beginning play in 2016, OCB has been on and off over the years and has changed leagues three times. It now seems as though there is some team stability, allowing these young Homegrowns more time to develop. That’s not something the club previously had with Loera and Aguilera forced to go to college when OCB went on hiatus in 2018.

Regardless of why the club hasn’t had much success with its Homegrown signings, successful promotions to the first team have a significant impact on a club. These players are cheaper than signings from other clubs and only those on the senior roster count against the salary cap. They also don’t require losing any other players to sign them.

Michel and Stajduhar are the only true Homegrown Players for Orlando City that have made an impact on the first team. Michel has made 118 appearances in all competitions, scoring 19 goals with nine assists, and Stajduhar has been the club’s primary backup behind Pedro Gallese, helping start the Lions’ run to the 2022 U.S. Open Cup championship with wins over Tampa Bay and Philadelphia and a vital penalty shootout win against Inter Miami. The club is looking to re-sign Michel, who is out of contract, and Stadjuhar is expected to be the backup to Gallese again in 2023, although he could compete for the starting position if the Lions are unable to sign the Peruvian international.

However, the club needs to see more from other Homegrowns. Developing young talent has had a huge impact on the success of teams like FC Dallas, the New York Red Bulls, and the Philadelphia Union. Whether this current group becomes the future core of the team remains to be seen. Five of the seven are still teenagers, with Michel and Stajduhar both 25 years old. Loyola and these other young players may begin a golden era of Orlando City Homegrown talent — at least that is the club’s hope.