By CHARLIE CORR – firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, March 17, 2016
After two years, Orlando City is back in the USL with the fielding of Orlando City B this season. The first run included two championships (2011 and 2013) as the club moved into Major League Soccer in 2015. Now the organization has pushed all-in with the USL’s OCB franchise, managed by former Orlando City midfielder Anthony Pulis. Living up to the team’s four-year run from 2011-14 would be idealistic, but the new USL side has the resources and a wealth of talent to make an immediate impact heading into 2016.
Head Coach: Anthony Pulis
Stadium: Titan Soccer Complex
2015 results: (2016 expansion club)
2015 postseason: (2016 expansion club)
Goalkeeper: Former Scottish youth international Mark Ridgers and Akron alum Jake Fenlason make up the goalkeeping corps in the early stages. Ridgers, 25, has previously played for Scotland’s U-19 and U-21 teams, and his professional career began at age 15 with Ross County FC. Fenlason capped off a strong collegiate career with the Zips, leading them to the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament this past season. It would also make sense for a player such as Orlando City Homegrown and U.S. U-20 MNT goalkeeper Mason Stajduhar to see some time with OCB this season.
Defense: When OCB was introduced, the club simultaneously announced the signing of three players, two of whom are on the defense. Mikey Ambrose and Kyle Callen-McFadden bring instant experience to the back line. Ambrose is coming off his first professional season with the Austin Aztex (22 games at left back) and Irish youth international and center back Callen-McFadden worked his way up through Norwich City’s youth system. But that’s the tip of the iceberg as a number of USL-experienced players make up this group. Craig Nitti played in 18 matches for Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2 and Andrew Ribeiro is preparing for his fourth USL season after stints with the Harrisburg City Islanders, Pittsburgh Riverhounds and Charlotte Independence. Not to be overlooked, Zach Ellis-Hayden won the 2015 PDL Championship with K-W United FC.
Midfield: Colombian Johnny Mendoza has the strongest ties to this franchise to go along with two USL Championship-winning teams on his resume. Mendoza featured for Orlando City U23 and the Orlando City squad that won the 2013 title. Most recently, Mendoza won the 2015 title with the Rochester Rhinos. Tony Rocha was one of OCB’s first signings following a 2015 season with Austin, where he tied for the team lead in assists (3) and added a goal in 25 games. Then there’s Cameroonian Marius Obekop who led the New York Red Bulls II with six goals and tied for second on the club with three assists in 20 games.
Forward: For those who track the U.S. youth national teams, a couple familiar names are among this group. Pierre da Silva was one of the top goal scorers when he was with the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team and was a member of the USA’s 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup team. Dembakwi Yomba has featured for multiple YNTs through the U.S. U-20s, and was knocking at the door for a spot in last year’s U-20 World Cup. William Eyang (Cameroon) and Michael Cox (Canada) have recently played abroad, with Cox spending the past two years with Atletico CP in Portugal and Eyang at Bokens BK in Sweden.
Strengths: With multiple USL-primed defenders and midfielders on this expansion club, the back line and midfield appear to rival that of almost any other established USL side. Ribeiro, Ambrose and Nitti bring experience and some versatility to a defense that will need that type of professional pedigree in the club’s early stages of the 2016 season. Combine that with a midfield that features Mendoza’s extensive championship and USL background and the recent 2015 campaigns from Obekop and Rocha, and OCB has a foundation that does not feel at all like an expansion team.
Weaknesses: Where OCB lacks USL experience is in the attack, which is not necessarily a huge deterrent as there is quick athleticism and extensive youth international experience among this group. The front line will likely need the most time to adapt and mesh in the early going. With a formidable midfield behind them, it would not be a surprise if OCB’s offense clicks pretty quickly.
Key number: 44 – Head Coach Anthony Pulis appeared in 44 regular-season matches with Orlando City SC, scoring four goals during his tenure from 2012-14.
Noteworthy matchups: The six-game homestand at the Titan Soccer Complex from May 1-June 5 might be one of the best stretches to target for local fans. It features games against fellow expansion sides FC Cincinnati (May 4) and Bethlehem Steel FC (May 7), the defending champion Rochester Rhinos (May 22) and a purple-clad clash against Louisville City FC, which was a previous partner with the MLS Orlando City side last year.
Coach’s view: “It’s been really, really pleasing so far, but we have a long way to go.” – Anthony Pulis during preseason
Current roster (updated: March 17, 2016):
Goalkeepers: Jake Fenlason, Mark Ridgers
Defenders: Mikey Ambrose, Kyle Callan-McFadden, Zach Ellis-Hayden, Craig Nitti, Andrew Ribeiro
Midfielders: Antonio Matarazzo, Johnny Mendoza, Marius Obekop, Tony Rocha
Forwards: Michael Cox, Pierre da Silva, William Eyang, Alejandro Garcia, Keegan Smith, Dembakwi Yomba