The combination of the Wilf family ownership and a strong front office has provided manager Óscar Pareja with a different and dynamic player pool.
It is not like Orlando City's previous ownership group and the front office, led by Vice President Luiz Muzzi, did anything wrong the last few years. Sure, there may have been some missteps with previous managers and bringing on underperforming players, but Orlando City has held its own in the very tough eastern conference of Major League Soccer. What may be different is the ownership's outlook with OCSC, and possibly dictating best practices used for many years by the NFL franchise they own. This past off season showed all of us the Wilf brothers have zero tolerance for marginal performance and have provided Muzzi with the financial latitude to top-grade the player pool. There is no doubt that Muzzi has delivered. Here are my takes on the upcoming season:
First, it is very important to review the schedule, especially the first thirty days of the season. Along with top-grading certain positions, a major task for Muzzi and Pareja was to create plenty of depth with the player pool...and here is why: The season starts on February 25th, and one month later, on March 25, OCSC will have played seven games in thirty days. These seven games include the Champions League home and away series with Tigres, plus five MLS regular season games with New York Red Bulls, Cincinnati, D.C. United, and Charlotte. Their seventh game within that thirty day period has OCSC in Philadelphia, against the MLS Cup runner-up and eastern conference powerhouse Philadelphia Union. The league did OCSC no favors with their first 30-day schedule. The same holds true for the June-July timeframe with another seven matches played between June 10 and July 8, including road games at the Seattle Sounders and Real Salt Lake. As an add-on, preliminary scheduling may include two additional Leagues Cup matches in July, creating a very tough midseason schedule.
Taking into account the ownership's expectations as well as the 2023 schedule, Muzzi and Pareja have had no choice but to change out the player pool, and add tremendous depth for the 2023 season. I do not have everyone in the following list, but here are the players that were with the Club to start off the 2022 season, but no longer part of today's roster: Benji Michel, Junior Orso, Ruan, Joao Moutinho, Sebas Mendez, Uri Rosell, Andres Perea, and Tesho Akindele. Eight players who have now been replaced by the likes of Ramiro Enrique, Martin Ojeda, Shak Mohammed, Felipe Martins, Dagur Thórhallsson, Luca Petrasso, Rafael Santos, and Gaston Gonzalez (who was injured early on in the 2022 season). Eight new players that certainly can fill the void left by departing players - and just as importantly provide a deep level of depth to deal with the schedule.
Regarding the depth of the player pool, all positions seem to be well covered. I am using broadcast journalist Evan Weston's Twitter post as a guide with the following list. Thank you, Evan.
Goalkeepers: Gallese - Stajduhar - Grinwis
Center backs: Jansson - Antonio Carlos - Schlegel - Williams - Smith (in an emergency)
Right back: Smith - Halliday - Freeman - Thórhallsson
Left back: Santos - Petrasso - Smith
Defensive Mids: Araujo - Cartagena - Thórhallsson
Center Attacking Mids: Pereyra - Thórhallsson - Martins - Torres - Ojeda - Mohammed
Right flank: Torres - Ojeda - Thórhallsson - Mohammed - Gonzalez
Left flank: Ojeda - Torres - Gonzalez - Enrique - Angulo - Thorhallsson
#9: Enrique - Kara - McGuire - Lynn
I am not sure Muzzi and Pareja have checked all the boxes, but they certainly have created a great deal of depth with this year's player pool. Are the new additions, especially Martin Ojeda, impact players? Does the re-signed Pedro Gallese, Mauricio Pereyra, and Rodrigo Schlegel help with the backline and midfield? Will the tough schedule, especially to open the season, allow OSCS to get off to a good start? Will the club get after it in the Champions League home and away series with Tigres? These are questions all of us are looking forward to having answered starting on February 25th against the New York Red Bulls.
Gary Levitt @gary1123 justmytake.net
photo credit: Orlando City Soccer Club