Luiz Muzzi hasn’t been shy about saying he wants to Orlando City’s development pyramid to be integrated in a way that creates a pipeline from the academy level to the first team.
The club announced it was taking a major step Wednesday toward making that vision a reality. Orlando City’s development academy, Orlando City B of USL League One and Orlando City’s first team will all be housed at the club’s new Osceola Heritage Park training facility in Kissimmee, Fla., by 2020. Orlando City SC also announced a new training ground for its NWSL side, the Orlando Pride.
Muzzi, who was hired from FC Dallas in December to be Orlando City’s executive vice president of soccer operations, said housing the full scope of Orlando City’s developmental structure – from the academy to the first team – at one facility means things will work in a way that’s impossible when everything is spread out.
“One of the things here is that everything is far away,” Muzzi said. “You look at the stadium, you look at Sylvan, everything is kind of 40 minutes away and you lose the ability of actually seeing a lot of the work that is done day to day. It’s something that I wanted to do, but it’s not about me wanting to do it. It’s an idea that kind of resonated with the club and everybody’s like, ‘Yeah, that makes sense.’
“From there, it took an extra investment. We are grateful to ownership for making that extra investment. It takes money. Not only an idea, but it takes the actual money to do it.”
Muzzi said he didn’t have the exact cost for the move. He did confirm construction of the training facility is scheduled to be completed within two months. Orlando City’s first team was originally scheduled to move to Kissimmee midway through its 2019 campaign, but that has been delayed until after the 2019 MLS season. Muzzi said it wasn’t the best option for Orlando City to just “grab everything and go” in the middle of the year.
The development academy will move in ahead of the 2019-20 academic year.
The move signals the end of Orlando City’s partnership with Montverde Academy, a private school in Clermont, Fla., that housed the club’s academy and second team since January 2018. OCB will remain at Montverde through the end of the USL League One season.
According to a statement from the club, the new, 20-acre Kissimmee-based facility will feature “four fields – three natural grass and one artificial turf – a fitness, training and recovery center; film review room; as well as a players’ lounge and meal room.”
Muzzi said decisions regarding staff for the academy and OCB – both of which were previously overseen by Mike Potempa – will be made by new academy director Marcelo Neveleff, who starts in June.
Neveleff, a U.S. Soccer Federation “A” licensed coach, was the technical director of South Florida-based Weston FC, a U.S. Soccer development academy, from 2009 until 2015. That’s just one stop on a long list of bullet points on his résumé.
“Even though he is from Argentina, he’s been in Florida for most of his life,” Muzzi said of Neveleff. “For a long time. He knows all of the players here. As a matter of fact, he looked at our rosters and said, ‘I know most of these players. Almost all of them.’
“It’s difficult to get that kind of profile. It’s not like you turn a stone and find one of those.”
Muzzi confirmed OCB will play at Osceola Heritage Park next season, but the club is looking at “other possibilities with the county.”
Another question up in the air is at what age Orlando City’s development academy prospects will start training around the first team and Orlando City B. Orlando City will use two of the grass fields at Osceola Heritage Park, while OCB and the development academy will share the grass field and the turf field.
Orlando City has U-12, U-13, U-14, U-15, U-17 and U-19 teams.
“We’re in the process of deciding exactly what is the cutoff,” Muzzi said. “We’re going to have the older age groups. Deciding exactly where that cutoff is is still something that’s being determined.”
The entire endeavor echoes what Muzzi and Orlando City coach James O’Connor have been saying for a while. The two want the club to have a family atmosphere. In recent training sessions, development academy products who are in college have trained with Orlando City’s first team.
“We want people in the academy to feel a part of what we’re doing,” O’Connor said before training on Wednesday. “I think having this program where players who are at college know that they can still come through the summer and we have an opportunity for them to be able to train and be able to train and get to know some of the first team players, get to know the coaching staff.”
A new home for the Pride
While Orlando City, OCB and the development academy are headed to Kissimmee, the Pride will remain in Sanford, but move to a renovated Sylvan Lake Park. Renovations are set to begin at the end of the MLS season and will be completed by February.
Pride GM Erik Ustruck declined to go into specifics regarding the cost of the renovations at Sylvan for the Pride but said the investment from the club is “significant.” Ustruck spoke with the team Tuesday morning regarding the new facility and how the team would like to customize its players’ lounge.
“I don’t think we would have done right by moving the Pride with the men,” Ustruck said. “I think this allows the Pride to have an opportunity to create their own space and call someplace home. I think, for them, and for us, it also shows the investment by ownership and our … executive staff, being able to give the men a place to call home and also giving a place for the Pride to call home, it sets us up for longevity.”
The facility will be the first of its kind in the NWSL, according to the club. Ustruck said he can use the new facility as a recruitment tool in the future. He added he approached Muzzi regarding keeping the women’s team at Sylvan Lake Park.
“It was an idea that we kind of ran with” Ustruck said.
“When I presented the idea of staying, there’s a very large, very significant cost that comes with that idea. It takes time to come to an agreement or to reach a decision, just because of the financial burden that it could impose on the club. At the end of the day, they decided that it was in our best interests, both the Pride and MLS, that each of us have our own dedicated facility.”