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Orlando City B, academy leader Mike Potempa focused on development, education

OCB GM Mike Potempa speaks to the Orlando City U-19 team at Montverde Academy. (Jordan Culver/Orlando Sentinel)

Orlando City B General Manager Mike Potempa is proud of his approach to recruiting for Orlando City’s development academy and for the club’s USL League One side.

The approach isn’t just about soccer. For Potempa, who is also the director of the club’s development academy, it’s about utilizing all aspects of Orlando City SC’s partnership with the Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy (S.I.M.A), as well as forging new partnerships to entice potential professionals.

The education factor is critical for Potempa. And it’s something that he’s focused on as the general manager of Orlando City B. He told Pro Soccer USA the team is close to a partnership with a local college in order to provide upper-level education for the professional players at OCB.

“I want all of our OCB kids to live at Montverde and go to school,” Potempa said clarifying in an email he meant the campus at Montverde Academy. “This is something totally different. If you’re an academy kid at 18 years old that finishes the DA and you’re getting recruited by college and you’re getting an opportunity with Orlando City B, the question becomes, ‘Well, what do I do?’”

Part of the compensation package for certain OCB players, if the partnership works out, will be housing, meals and school – essentially a full scholarship to college, but for a professional team.

“Now you’re doing right by the kids of this age,” Potempa said. “You’re going to college. You’re getting your degree paid for by OCB as part of your contract.

“If you get your two-year degree and you go on to the first team, now you can chase your career, but you have two years of your degree taken care of already on your pursuit. You can also use that if you go after a college kid that’s been in college for two years.

“If you ask him to play for OCB, the question’s going to become, ‘What do I do about school?’” 

Potempa said the answer to that question is simple: Orlando City B will pay for schooling. 

The reported eventual removal of MLS Homegrown territories could be a huge boon for recruitment for the development academy and, eventually, Orlando City B. Potempa is looking to house and provide schooling for academy athletes through Orlando City’s partnership with S.I.M.A.

The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio on Wednesday reported the league is inching closer to the removal of Homegrown territories. Under MLS rules, teams can’t scout within another club’s territory.

Potempa is interested in being able to expand into other territories.

Via email, Potempa gave an example regarding a player in Canada – currently the combined Homegrown territory of Toronto FC, the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Montreal Impact – who Orlando City scouted and hoped would guest play in a tournament with Orlando City’s Development Academy last spring.

That move was blocked by MLS, he said.

“Here, we have a boarding school,” Potempa said. “The boy could live here. He can still go to get his education. He can train here.”

He added later, “With the correct scouting system in place, the club could go anywhere, find talent, house them at Montverde Academy and build a very strong foundation.”

This type of plan was the vision from the beginning for Orlando City. Club CEO Alex Leitão said in a June interview Pro Soccer USA that Orlando City B, when relaunched as a USL League One (formerly USL D3) side, would be used to develop young players and not as a place to park injured first team players or the ones not getting minutes.

“Orlando City is heavily investing in their academy,” Potempa said. “I will be very upfront and clear: They are paying for everything.”

Potempa said in an email the entire operation is an expensive endeavor, which includes travel to various events cities outside of Florida.

Potempa said he drives to the facility at Sylvan Lake Park once every two weeks for meetings.

“I speak to Alex Leitão quite a bit,” Potempa said. “I speak to [club owner] Flávio [Augusto Da Silva] quite a bit to give them updates on our academy results. They’re very in-tune with it. I think they understand the power behind combining resources. This is the difference that people don’t understand. The way it was running before, your scouting network can only be so big if you don’t have anywhere to put the kids.

“If you’re going to scout in North Dakota, for example, and you see a really high-level talent, what are you going to do with them?”

Potempa said the partnership with S.I.M.A was about putting all levels of the club’s youth system – OCB and the development academy – in one place. Potempa said because OCB will be playing and training at Montverde, the kids there will get to see professionals on a daily basis.

When everything was separated, with OCB and the first team playing downtown, younger players didn’t see the professionals on a daily basis, which led to motivational struggles.

“When you have it all under one roof in a place like Montverde Academy, where the culture is set, the facilities are here and the coaches are here and everything is combined resources together and [you’re] projecting having a lot more shared resources to make it more powerful, the result of getting people into the first team is going to be a lot more likely.”

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