Orlando City Soccer Club is banking on a young nucleus of talent as they prepare for their Major League Soccer debut in 2015.
With seven players already under contract for next season, the club announced Tuesday plans to negotiate with just three holdovers from their final season in USL PRO, including veteran defender Luke Boden and young midfielders Adama Mbengue and Harrison Heath.
Orlando City coach Adrian Heath told MLSSoccer.com on Tuesday afternoon that informing players he spent years forging relationships with that they were no longer in the club’s plans was the hardest thing he's had to do in his professional career.
He said the decision to retain Boden, Mbengue and Heath was based on each possessing the tools, both on and off the field, that the coaching staff is looking for as they move forward with their transition to the next level.
Mbengue has been with the club the past three seasons and turns 21 in December. Heath, son of Adrian, is 18 years old and would be one of five teenagers on roster heading into next year, alongside defenders Rafael Ramos, 19, Tyler Turner, 18, Tommy Redding, 17, and midfielder Estrela, 18.
Heath has high expectations for the group of youngsters, who he says will be a great complement to the experience he hopes to put in place once training camp opens four months from now.
"We're in the next stage of what we're doing,” Heath said. “We know we need a lot of experience, and we are making a lot of headway in a lot of fronts on that side of things.”
Playing time has never been a guarantee in Orlando. Whether those players currently under contract are on the field in Florida in 2015, or perhaps loaned out to the club’s newly formed USL PRO affiliate in Louisville, will be dictated by how the roster shapes up and the performance of players throughout training camp.
“Those five guys have come in and contributed for us in really important games this year and have not been out of their depths by any stretch of the imagination,” Heath said of the teenagers. “We’ve seen a lot of the college football, and these are really good players in comparison. We’ve had them in here everyday, and we think there’s still an awful lot of growth in them as players. Hopefully they can grow and learn as we get bigger and better and stronger.”
Heath said other roster moves are expected to be made in the coming weeks. The club will switch its focus to obtaining more experience as they eye the expansion draft following the MLS season and the MLS SuperDraft and transfer window in January.