Orlando City SC will once again field a lower-division team after a yearlong hiatus.
This time, however, Orlando City B will operate in a different fashion.
OCB will return in 2019 as a USL Division III side. Matches will be played at the soccer stadium at Montverde Academy, where renovations and upgrades are already being discussed. The plan to expand the width of the playing surface is already in motion. Amenities like VIP seating are in the works.
The stakeholders involved with the relaunch of OCB agree the team will not be a place for first team players who are recovering from injuries or not getting minutes to play. Rather, it’ll be a bridge between Orlando City SC’s Development Academy, which is housed at Montverde, and the MLS side.
OCB will also train at Montverde.
“The idea behind OCB is really, you know you get to a point in the academy level where you get to the U-19 [team] and then the question becomes, similar to everywhere else in the country, ‘Where do I go from here if I have a dream to be a pro?’” OCB GM Mike Potempa said.
“Most kids go to college, which is fine, but we want to provide an avenue through OCB to where there’s a professional team on the campus that the academy players can see every day, training and playing, seeing some of their own promoted into that to provide the step between academy and MLS first team.
“To be able to give them not so much college, a three-month season, but take the most talented players, put them in OCB for one or two years of a 10-month competitive professional season with proper training, and them push them downtown to the first team. This is the idea.”
Potempa also is the director of the Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy (S.I.M.A). He said the goal of OCB as a USL D3 side is to have “18- and 19-year-old kids completely ready to play professionally in the first team for Orlando City.”
Orlando City has U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15, U-17 and U-19 teams.
Potempa added after the first year of OCB as a USL D3 team, he should be able to have a conversation with first team coaches and say he has a handful of players ready for first-team minutes.
Throughout the season, Orlando City’s first team has worked to get players back from various injuries. A few times, players and former head coach Jason Kreis bemoaned the lack of OCB as an option for recovering players looking to get meaningful minutes.
Orlando City GM Niki Budalic said it was always the plan to relaunch OCB in this way. A coach and a roster will be unveiled “in due course,” he said. He added there have been discussions regarding a coach and staffing structure for OCB.
“It’s more appropriate as far as fulfilling our strategic objectives with aligning our academy with USL,” he said about joining USL D3. “Basically, the ownership’s vision and the technical staff’s vision is USL is somewhere for the academy players to be given an opportunity to play at a more competitive level and to accelerate their development to [give] them a better chance at being ready for the first team.
“It’s primarily going to be used for academy players to play. The injured players [are] another issue that we can try to resolve in a variety of ways and maybe could be something that is supported by D3, but that is not the primary factor in investing and developing a D3 program.”
Potempa said other ways to bring players back from injury include matches between the top development sides and the first team. He outlined several issues with bringing first-team players down to OCB, like a lack of motivation from experienced first team players and the issue of younger players who’ve trained missing out on matches.
“Everywhere else in the world, they don’t loan down their first-team players to get minutes with the reserve team,” Potempa said. “It just doesn’t happen. Everything is up.”
The partnership between S.I.M.A and Orlando City SC has yielded results beyond what Budalic anticipated.
“The opportunity to centralize all of our operations in one location, the access to the facilities there, both academic and athletic, and the most important thing for me is the ability to influence culture by having all of the resources we have there has been tremendous,” Budalic said.
USL D3 in August filed its sanctioning paperwork with the U.S. Soccer Federation with 10 founding members. Senior Vice President Steven Short said more teams will be announced in the coming weeks as USL D3 prepares for its inaugural season.
“From day one, when we launched USL Division III, it was all about providing pro soccer to new markets,” Short said. “Orlando City B returning USL Division III, playing at Montverde and in the Clermont market actually provides access to those who maybe can’t get to downtown Orlando to watch the first team.
“Additionally, it supports the development of the game, right? What they’re doing is they’re walking through and with the launch of this club will continue to develop the next level of talent for their first club. They’re really tying together their academy initiative to the first club, and OCB is a conduit between the two.”
Short said more announcements will come through the end of September and into early October. He added a schedule is being worked on, as is a league structure.
Potempa said he’s anticipating an exciting match-day atmosphere for OCB at Montverde because the people watching will be watching the future of Orlando City. He added capacity for matches at Montverde will be about 1,500 to 2,000.
“In our view and in my view, if we never win a USL D3 championship – that may happen – but if we’re able to produce five, six players for the first team, that’s the success in it. If we win… of course we want to win,” Potempa said. “We’re the most competitive guys you’ll meet.
“But the goal is to make sure that the first-team guys have legitimate prospects to look at in their own academy of seasoned professionals at a young age to bring into the first team that are completely ready.”