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Orlando City clears space for moves that will shape 2019 roster

Orlando City SC head coach James O'Connor looks on during the first half against the Seattle Sounders at Orlando City Stadium. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

It’s clear Orlando City is undergoing yet another roster rebuild.

As of Tuesday evening, the club is making significant changes while still officially without a general manager after the club fired Niki Budalić. League sources confirmed to Pro Soccer USA last week that Luiz Muzzi from FC Dallas is set to take over overseeing soccer operations, but there has been no official announcement from the club on that front yet. Still, the Lions are continuing to revamp their roster. 

Orlando City SC on Sunday sent $150,000 in allocation money split over two seasons to FC Dallas in exchange for forward Tesho Akindele.

Akindele provides some depth in the attack, but he has scored fewer and fewer goals since a Rookie of the Year campaign (seven goals and three assists) in 2014. Last season, he scored two goals during 19 MLS appearances (five starts) for FC Dallas. Most of his appearances as a sub were for short bursts – he was subbed on for more than 15 minutes just three times in 2018.

In just three days since Atlanta United hoisted the MLS Cup, the Lions have moved on from three players, receiving mostly assets in return and offloading some contracts.

During the half-day trade window on Sunday, Orlando City traded Brazilian left back Victor “PC” Giro to Vancouver in exchange for a third-round 2019 SuperDraft pick. Tuesday, the club traded left back Mohamed El-Munir to LAFC and centerback Amro Tarek the New York Red Bulls.

El-Munir earned the Lions João Moutinho, the No. 1 pick in last season’s SuperDraft. The club also received a fourth-round pick in this year’s SuperDraft for Tarek.

Moutinho played in 14 games (10 starts) for LAFC during his rookie season. The 20-year-old left back/centerback is a Generation Adidas player, so his salary ($169,999.96 in total compensation last season) won’t count against Orlando City’s salary cap.

El-Munir made $192,833.29 in total compensation last season. PC made $95,312.50 and Tarek made $88,333.37.

There was speculation on social media about who would pay Tarek’s 2019 salary and the transfer fee still owed to Egyptian Premier League club Wadi Degla. A spokesperson for Orlando City SC said in a text message to Pro Soccer USA, “Tarek was on loan with lots of obligations that are now NYRB’s responsibility. We won’t comment further on another team’s player salary.”

Akindele received $122,500.00 in total compensation last season. 

Late last season, Orlando City head coach James O’Connor said the Lions’ roster lacked balance – pointing specifically to the fact team had just two natural strikers. Last season’s roster was built from the ground up for former coach Jason Kreis, who started the season favoring a more possession-based style of soccer. 

As of Tuesday evening, the Lions have 21 players listed on their roster. This is after the club declined options for eight players and completed the aforementioned trades. 

It’s still possible for Orlando City to negotiate new deals for players whose options were declined, but veterans Joe Bendik, Scott Sutter and Jonathan Spector all already posted farewell messages to social media, signaling the team has already moved on from them and the salaries they commanded. 

With the roster moves Orlando City has made so far, the only natural centerbacks left on the team are Lamine Sané (who spent most of the season injured) and Shane O’Neill. Summer signee Carlos Ascues can be used as a centerback – as he was at times during the 2018 season – and so can Moutinho. RJ Allen is another player who filled in at centerback for the Lions. 

There are certainly more moves to come during the offseason. Orlando City has the second pick in Wednesday’s MLS Waiver Draft, which starts at 4 p.m. The waiver draft includes players who are not eligible for re-entry or free agency and either are out of contract and have not been issued a genuine offer or have not had their 2019 options exercised.

Free agency also began on Tuesday.

The next league transaction date after the waiver draft is Dec. 14, which is the first stage of the re-entry draft. The re-entry draft gives Orlando City the option to pick up out-of-contract players under a specific set of circumstances:

  • Players who are at least 23 years old and have a minimum of three years of MLS experience whose contract options were not exercised by their clubs. They will be available at their option salary for 2019.
  • Players who are at least 25 years old with a minimum of four years of MLS experience who are out of contract and whose club does not wish to re-sign them at their previous salary. They are available for at least their 2018 salary.
  • Free agents who choose to participate.

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