Why Orlando Must Avoid An Arms Race With NYCFC

A balanced squad, not just flashy signings, will be the key to success
by Chris Kimball   |   Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Purple Pride – column on Orlando City SC (OCSC) & the Orlando & Central Florida area soccer scene.

Until MLS gets a team in South Florida, Orlando City's next best rival will be New York City FC. They're clubs with opposing histories but equally lofty goals. Watching the league's 2 rookies jockey for position along their maiden seasons will be a fascinating story to follow. One club's successes will serve to underscore the other's failures.

The bragging rights have mostly gone Orlando's way. The Florida club has a downtown stadium in the works, an undefeated season in progress and delectable rumors of Brazilian celebrities on their tongues.

But all of that changed dramatically this week when New York City FC announced the signing of superstar forward David Villa.

There was never any doubt that New York City would go all in when building it's inaugural squad. It is, after all, the brainchild of Manchester City and the New York Yankees, the 2 most egregious over-spenders in their respective leagues. Still, since its boardroom launch a year ago, NYCFC had produced surprisingly few headlines. With the Villa signing they appear to have finally launched the opening salvo in what could become something of an Orlando-New York arms race.

Besides Villa, the Empire State squad has also been linked with Chelsea's Frank Lampard. Meanwhile, Orlando is said to be courting Brazilian stars Kaká and Robinho. They're all great players; any of whom would be a massive addition to their club and to the league. But there's no reason to think that Orlando City must necessarily spend big money to achieve big results.

Just as these future rivals arrived in the league via opposite paths (one by way of USL PRO excellence, the other by way of a very big check) their routes to MLS achievement should be equally divergent. It may be that Orlando City's success in MLS does not come at the hands —or feet— of flashy designated players.

No disrespect to superstar DPs, they're swell. But to state the obvious, a few designated players can not win games by themselves. Major League Soccer's hybrid salary cap/designated player structure was designed, in part, to allow wealthy teams (or undisciplined ones) the freedom to flash cash, but it also keeps those teams in check through strict limits. There can be no hoarding of talent in MLS.

It's true that the quickest path to relevancy is to make 1 or 2 flashy signings. But as tempting as the allure of signing big names can be, they come with no guarantees. There are plenty of underperforming clubs in MLS with expensive internationals on their payroll (RBNY, Toronto, LA). There are also more than few outstanding clubs whose players won't be gracing the cover of FourFourTwo any time soon.

Arguably the best team in the league right now is the New England Revolution. With nary a designated player on the field they sit atop the Eastern Conference, 8 points ahead of Thierry Henry's New York Red Bulls and seven points in front of Toronto's multi-million dollar Bradley/Defoe experiment.

New England's success has come from building a deep and cohesive roster through smart drafting, developing homegrown talent, and signing complementary role players. Likewise, Real Salt Lake, the Portland Timbers, and last year's MLS Cup winners, Sporting Kansas City, have all developed perennially front-running clubs without betting the house on exorbitantly priced imports.

If Orlando City is going to out maneuver New York City for expansion side superiority it must do so by first exploiting its strength, namely having a team already in USL PRO and an established academy through which to indoctrinate young players to their unique style of play.

The club can — indeed it must — bleed its youth talent now, which appears to be their plan. Orlando may have an experienced, championship winning squad, but remarkably it's also one of the youngest in USL PRO. Take a quick look at Orlando's current roster and you'll find that half of the players are under 25 year old. Two of the club's four MLS signings, Tyler Turner and Thomas Redding, are just 19 years old and both get regular time in the starting XI.

"The reason we signed them is we think the've got huge upside," head coach Adrian Heath explains. "They've got a bright future ahead if they keep their heads down, keep listening and learning." 

They'll have that opportunity this year because Orlando City has wisely chosen to go it alone and accept just one loan player (Mikey Lopez) from their MLS partner, Sporting Kansas City.

Not all of Orlando City's current players will be on the MLS roster next season but those that are on it will have been vetted and battle tested in Adrian Heath's system. New players who arrive at the club next year will enjoy a solid framework in which to excel.

Regardless of who NYCFC signs this summer, there should be no pressure in Orlando to keep up with the proverbial Joneses. Unlike in the Big Apple, or worse, Miami, the front office in Orlando doesn't have to factor razzle-dazzle into its player personnel decisions. They can make pragmatic choices to assure the overall health of the club. And they can be confident that as long as they put a winning product on the field, with or without Brazilian superstars, there will be support for the club because, frankly, there already is.

NEXT UP: June 7 - Orlando City SC vs. Montreal Impact Reserves, ESPN's Wide World Of Sports Complex, Kissimmee, Florida. 7:30 p.m. EST. YouTube live stream.


William & Mary
Club Domestic:
Orlando City
Club Foreign:
Tottenham Hotspur
Christopher is editor of Orlando Soccer Daily, covering the beautiful game for central Florida. A retired music exec turned soccer fanatic, he landed in Florida via Paris & Boston. When not working he's usually chasing after his 2 sons or suffering after