KANSAS CITY, Mo. – From U.S. Soccer's point of view, Orlando City SC are a third-tier club with aspirations of moving up a couple of spots via expansion.
That's not the way Peter Vermes sees things, though. In the Sporting Kansas City manager's eyes, Adrian Heath's Lions have a structure and philosophy that's MLS-ready and a roster that makes them dangerous in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup on Wednesday night (8:30 pm ET) – even without the four Sporting loanees who have helped fuel their drive to the top of USL PRO this season.
“I think they're a team that could play in Major League Soccer,” Vermes said on Tuesday during the club's weekly news conference. “I think they're a very good team. They have a very good roster, and I think Adrian does a great job with his team in the way that he wants to play. It's attack-oriented, gives his players a lot of confidence. And at the same time, they try to do it home and away and I think that's a recipe for success in this league.”
And while the jump to MLS is not likely to happen for a few years, barring a relocation of an existing franchise, Vermes said that Orlando City – Wednesday night's opponent in fourth-round Open Cup action at Sporting Park – would not be out of place in the second-tier NASL.
“The USL and NASL, it's a weird dynamic,” he said. “It's got it's reasons for why it is the way it is today. It's a little difficult to compare the two in that way. To me, at the least, [Orlando City are] a second-division team. They're not a third-tier. They're a second-tier. That's the league they would fit into.
"But organizationally and how they can play, I think they could play in MLS.”
That structure makes them an ideal affiliate under the new pilot agreement between MLS and USL PRO, Vermes said.
“There's a reason why we have a partnership with the club,” he said. “I think they're organized on the business side and they're very organized on the technical side. So it's a great partner for us from that perspective.”
The partnership has been fruitful for the Lions, as well. Forward Dom Dwyer has already shattered the USL Pro scoring mark, with 15 goals in 13 matches, and the other loanees – goalkeeper Jon Kempin, defender Yann Songo'o and midfielder Christian Duke – have all contributed to City's success.
And while the loan agreement precludes the four from playing in Wednesday night's game, Vermes expects the Lions – who knocked off the Colorado Rapids in the third round – to come in confident and aggressive.
“They have a good lineup. They really do,” he said. “They've played without our guys in their lineup, and they've won. So they have a good team, and that's the most important thing for us to remember.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.