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Five OCB Players Most Likely to Sign First-Team Deals

These five OCB players have impressed in the MLS NEXT Pro’s inaugural season.

Image courtesy of Orlando City SC

After taking a year off waiting for the new MLS NEXT Pro league to start, Orlando City B returned to action this season. The team is made up of different types of players, including first-team Homegrown signings, MLS SuperDraft picks, and academy products. With two games remaining in the season, let’s take a look at the five OCB players most likely to sign first-team deals with Orlando City.

If you’ve been paying attention to OCB this season, some key players won’t be included in this list, like Thomas Williams, Alex Freeman, and Jack Lynn. These are players already under contract with the first team. However, some players might have played minutes for the first team but have yet to sign a first-team contract.

MLS has odd rules when it comes to player acquisitions with allocation orders and discovery lists. The easiest players to sign are Homegrown Players and draft picks. As a result, the club already has the MLS rights to these five players, making it easier and more likely for them to sign.

So without further ado, here are my five OCB players most likely to sign first team deals with Orlando City.

Javier Otero, Goalkeeper

The 19-year-old Venezuelan goalkeeper is in his second season with OCB. He backed up draft pick Austin Aviza during the 2020 USL League One season and started one game. However, he’s come into his own as one of the best goalkeepers in MLS NEXT Pro this year. Otero’s 31 goals against this season are fourth-highest in MLS NEXT Pro, but his 100 saves top the league by 41 stops.

Currently, Orlando City’s goalkeepers are Pedro Gallese, Mason Stajduhar, and Adam Grinwis, in that order. Grinwis has played for OCB this season but struggled, clearly outplayed by Otero, although it’s fair to say Grinwis had some rust after not seeing much action. Otero is even more likely to sign with the first team if Gallese leaves after this season, the final year of his contract. If the club believes Stajduhar can start, I can definitely see Otero being signed as his backup.

Favian Loyola, Forward

The breakout performer in the field this season has been Loyola. Originally on an academy deal, Loyola signed an MLS NEXT Pro contract with the club last week. He’s only come into the spotlight recently with more playing time but has looked terrific. He came to the attention of most when he was named the MLS NEXT All-Star Game MVP in August.

Loyola has looked particularly strong in tight spaces. The 17-year-old forward is good with the ball at his feet and doesn’t lose it easily. He’s also shown an ability to create space for shots near the top of the box. The teenager is still developing and it might be a couple of years before he’s ready for MLS, but right now I’d say he’s the field player most likely to eventually make that jump.

Moises Tablante, Forward

Tablante made his OCB debut in 2019 and immediately made a splash as a teenager. Following the 2019 and 2020 USL League One seasons, he looked like the most likely OCB to sign a Homegrown deal. However, the club had other plans. During the 2020 season, he started playing at left back. He continued that role for OC Academy U23 during the United Premier Soccer League season. But it ultimately didn’t work out and he’s back to his natural role this year.

The 21-year-old forward is really good going forward but has struggled a bit in the final third. He’ll beat three defenders only to lose the ball in space once in the box. If he isn’t signed to a first-team contract following the 2022 season, he could end up moving elsewhere. Orlando City Head Coach Oscar Pareja mentioned this possibility following his appearance in the friendly against Arsenal FC in July, stating that if he isn’t ready for the first team soon, it could be the end of his tenure in Orlando.

Regardless, Tablante has been one of OCB’s best attacking threats. The offense typically runs through him and he has been able to create scoring opportunities in every game he’s played this year. Had the club not tried to force him into the left back position, he might have already signed a Homegrown deal.

Brandon Hackenberg, Defender

Hackenberg was drafted by Orlando City with the 22nd overall pick in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft out of Penn State. He returned for a final year of college in 2021 before signing for OCB this season. The defender has played right back, center back, and left back for the team at times this season, being productive at each. That versatility could prove beneficial for the team in the future.

The position Hackenberg would most likely fill if signed to a first-team deal would be center back. The team has already signed Mikey Halliday and Alex Freeman to Homegrown deals but has struggled with center back depth this year. While he likely wouldn’t sign until the off-season at the earliest, and he isn’t the most likely signing from OCB, I could see the club signing the draft selection to provide some center back depth for the first team.

David Boccuzzo, Defender

The fifth player that I think could sign a Homegrown deal is another center back. Boccuzzo started the 2022 MLS NEXT Pro season as OCB’s captain and leader of the back line before leaving to play at the University of Louisville. Boccuzzo looked good early in the year and showed an ability to push up field, which has been seen with Orlando City’s center backs. He also captained the U-17 team to the MLS NEXT championship in 2021.

It will probably be a couple of years before Boccuzzo would come back to Orlando to sign a professional contract with the club. The 18-year-old defender will likely spend at least two or three years at Louisville and the club will undoubtedly be keeping a close eye on him while he’s in school. If he continues to develop, he could help with the team’s lack of center back depth in the future.

These are the five current OCB players who I think are most likely to sign first-team contracts. If you’ve been watching OCB this year, which players do you think will join the first team? Let us know in the comments below.