ORLANDO, Fla. – Just in case MLS needed a reminder of how its international profile is gaining traction, the arrival of Armando Carneiro with Orlando City SC as Chief Soccer Officer this week is another significant signpost to the league’s fast-growing appeal.
Carneiro is fresh from building a stellar reputation as one of Europe’s top talent creators after six years with Benfica, having helped to turn the fallen Portuguese powerhouse back into a dominant force once again.
When he announced he would be leaving the Lisbon club “for new challenges” last month, most assumed he would be going to another big European outfit, with Manchester City strongly rumored to be a likely destination.
His arrival in Central Florida was therefore something of an eye-opener for many Euro-centric soccer authorities, but according to Orlando president Phil Rawlins, it shouldn’t be.
“Just as you have seen player migration at a younger age and more talent coming in from everywhere, so you will see the coaching level and the administration level raising the bar,” Rawlins insisted. “If you think about it, soccer is a global game but it is about more than players, so it makes sense for coaches, administrators and sports science staff to be looking for new opportunities.
“And it could have great benefits for the league as a whole. When you see the likes of Armando – who could have gone anywhere he chose with his track record – coming to MLS, I think you will see a lot more of that in future.”
Orlando had already established a relationship with Carneiro last year when they agreed a strategic partnership with Benfica and signed Rafael Ramos and Estrela from Benfica’s U-19 team. That has been strengthened through City majority owner Flavio Augusto da Silva living in Lisbon and keeping in touch with the Portuguese team’s Academy Director, who has produced no less than 55 players for various national teams, from youth to senior level, in the past six years.
A chance lunch meeting between Da Silva and Carneiro led to the Benfica man, who indicated an interest in MLS, being offered the chance to come and see Orlando in action for himself during three separate visits to the Sunshine State this season.
“We had been over to Lisbon last year to see Benfica’s training ground and the youth setup under Armando, so we could see the quality of player development for ourselves,” Rawlins added. “Then, when he started talking about his future and how he would love to work in the States, we were definitely interested.
“He is very excited about what is going on in MLS and what we had achieved in a short space of time, and he sees a great opportunity here to help develop things further.”
Carneiro is currently taking a watching brief of Orlando’s training and academy programs before he is officially in residence, but he has carte blanche to look at all the specifications at the club – including with Orlando City B, who begin play in USL next year and the Orlando Pride, who will make a 2016 debut in the NWSL – and oversee everything soccer-related, from nutrition to recruitment.
It is a bold move for a club barely a year old in league terms but, with three professional teams plus an Academy to oversee, it is also a logical one to add staff and ensure there is clear direction from youth level all the way to the top in playing terms.
“That’s a point a lot of people have missed out on so far,” Rawlins said. “Along with what we have set out to do, we now have three teams instead of one and the workload has increased accordingly.
“We have three separate coaches and development plans, and it was something we had been talking about for a while in terms of boosting the staff and adding an over-arching direction to things. With Armando, we have an ideal man to steer things from the higher level.”