Orlando City’s long-anticipated end-of-season roster moves were finally announced by the club on Tuesday, as the Lions officially parted ways with nine players.
Eight players saw their contract options declined for 2019 — Joe Bendik, Richie Laryea, Tony Rocha, Chris Schuler, Jonathan Spector, Scott Sutter, Donny Toia and Jose Villarreal — while one saw his deal with the club expire — Earl Edwards Jr.
Meanwhile, the club choose to pick up options on Carlos Ascues, Adam Grinwis, Cristian Higuita, Will Johnson, Chris Mueller, Victor “PC” Giro, Uri Rosell and Mason Stajduhar. The rest of the players on the roster already had guaranteed deals for next season. In all, the Lions also cleared about $1.2 million off the books for 2019.
So now James O’Connor, without the temporary help of a General Manager since Niki Budalic was surprisingly let go by the club on Monday, will have his work cut out for him as he heads into his first offseason with the club, currently carrying 21 players on the roster from a team that finished dead last in the Eastern Conference.
It is worth noting that Orlando City will have the option to negotiate new contracts with all of the players who’s options were declined.
Here, we’ll take a quick dive into the players that were cut, a look at who’s left, and what we can possibly expect from Orlando City between now and the start of the next MLS season in March.
Surprises Among the Released
It happens every year, we see a name or two on the list of cuts that comes as a surprise, and this year was no different, with three big names among the eight declined contracts — Sutter, Spector, and Bendik.
We’ll start with Sutter, who after appearing in 32 games in 2017 and cementing himself as one of the top right backs in the league saw his playing time drop this past season because of injures.
He only appeared in 19 games, a drop of over 1,200 minutes, and clearly enough of a concern as he would have been heading into the season in which he’ll turn 33. By all indications from Sutter through his personal Twitter account, it would appear that he’s not in any renegotiation with the club for a new deal and will indeed be parting ways this winter.
Spector found himself in a very similar boat. He started 25 games in 2017, another debut campaign that found him sneaking back into U.S. Men’s National Team contention and becoming a true leader on the Orlando City back line. But again, injuries derailed much of his season, as he only started 13 games in 2018, also dropping over 1,100 minutes in playing time. Spector also turns 33 next season, and was making almost $600,000 this season, a hefty price tag for an aging, injury-prone defender. It’ll be interesting to see if the Lions try to bring him back on a new, more team-friendly deal, or move on entirely as well.
And then Bendik, another leader among the squad for the last three seasons who found himself taking a huge step back in 2018. Like Spector, at his peak he was getting himself into the national team discussion, but at his lowest, he was letting in too many goals to keep his starting job. In all, he let in 58 goals in 25 games, which was six more goals than he had let in all of 2017, starting all but one game that year. Bendik, I suspect, is one of the many cuts that will be looking for a new team and not working a return to the Lions.
A Look At Who Is Left
Goalkeepers: Adam Grinwis, Mason Stajduhar
Orlando City thought it had a long-term solution to goalkeeper in Bendik, but it turns out they’ll be on the market for a starting keeper once again after cutting their starter for the second time in four seasons. There are a couple of veteran names on the market who were cut from their teams this month, including Matt Lampson and Clint Irwin, but the Lions could also go out and make a trade or even go internationally to replace Bendik.
Whoever it is, they’ll want someone to can play out of the back to fit into the style that O’Connor prefers, which was not something that Bendik was particularly good at.
Defenders: Carlos Ascues, Amro Tarek, Mohamed El-Munir, Shane O’Neill, RJ Allen, Lamine Sane, Victor “PC” Giro
Needless to say, the back line is going to need some reshaping this offseason, coming off a season in which the Lions set an MLS record for goals allowed in a single season with 74. With Sutter gone, the Lions will need to find some strength at the right back spot — both wing back positions, really — and center-back help will be another area of need this winter.
Crucial holes to fill as O’Connor’s work is cut out for him.
Midfielders: Josue Colman, Pierre Da Silva, Sacha Kljestan, Will Johnson, Dillon Powers, Cristian Higuita, Oriol Rosell, Yoshimar Yotun, Cam Lindley
A down year for Kljestan made things difficult for Orlando City, as he posted his lowest assist total since coming back to the league with the New York Red Bulls in 2015. While some believe the club should move on from the 33-year-old midfielder, there’s plenty of reasons to say he would be more of an effect with a better cast around him.
2019 could be a big year in terms of development and gaining minutes for young midfielders like Da Silva and Colman, who the Lions will certainly be looking for more out of being on a designated player deal.
On another note, the Lions bringing back Powers for another season was a surprising decision, considering the former MLS Rookie of Year only appeared in three games for Orlando in 2018, and not once since his last MLS appearance in August.
Forwards: Dom Dwyer, Chris Mueller, Stefano Pinho
Mueller was a fun surprise in 2018 after being drafted out of Wisconsin, scoring three goals with seven assists in 32 appearances, but the Lions will need much more from him or someone else in 2019 alongside Dwyer, who had a good — but not great — year for the Lions, with 13 goals in 26 appearances. However, Dwyer only scored twice in eight games from the start of September.
As the only true threat up top for the Lions, teams were able to shut him down, thus making it much harder for Orlando to score without another goalscorer on the roster.
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