Historically, the MLS SuperDraft doesn’t yield much in the results department for teams — unless you’re Orlando City, in which case the past two drafts have brought on a pleasant return to date.
The Lions only had one pick in last year’s draft, selecting Chris Mueller with the fifth overall pick. This year, the Lions had five picks — only opting to use four, however, selecting Santiago Patiño third overall and Kamal Miller 27th overall, and two more players (Tommy Madden and Scott DeVoss — that didn’t make it out of the preseason with the Lions.
While the talent pool in the draft is getting thinner and thinner every year with the expansion of academies across the country, we’re seeing fewer players stick in Major League Soccer with the teams that drafted them — and many of them last fewer than 2-3 years with their first club.
Though the draft is losing its importance to the league, Orlando City has managed to find some value over the last two years with Mueller, Patiño, and Miller — even Cyle Larin if we go back even further.
Additionally, with the renewed focus on Homegrown players, Orlando City has also added forward Benji Michel on a Homegrown contract and former first overall pick João Moutinho in a trade with Los Angeles FC, building an impressive group of young talent to join the squad this season — and the group, all just 22 years old or younger, has stepped up.
After scoring three goals with seven assists in his rookie campaign last season, Mueller has taken the next step in 2019, scoring five goals with three assists in 19 appearances (12 starts) this season, and is second on the team in key passes with 19, trailing on Nani (34). Moutinho has been a lock-down starter at the left-back spot, taking over the job early from Danilo Acosta, and has delivered three assists in 12 games (11 starts) as an impact player for the Lions burning up and down the left side.
Michel has impressed across his eight appearances so far, notching his first MLS goal — a game-winner — against the Columbus Crew this past week. Same goes for Patiño, who has two goals and one assist in eight appearances, bagging his first career goal against the Philadelphia Union on July 7 and most recently, against the Portland Timbers on Thursday.
Miller has also appeared in eight games this season, starting in Orlando’s last three games, one of which saw him deployed as a left-back.
Orlando City head coach James O’Connor recently spoke about two of those guys, Michel and Patiño, at training before the Lions took on New York City FC in their Open Cup quarterfinal, and said that integrating the young guys and hoping they would take advantage was all a part of the plan heading into the season.
“At the end of the season, our hope was that they would have had a good amount of minutes and that they’ve been able to establish themselves as first-team players,” O’Connor said. “That’s something that at the start of the year we’ve been very intentional of trying to sit with guys and say ‘ok, here’s, if it was a perfect season, what it would look like from our end.’ I think the guys can be really happy with the way they’ve been training, with the way they’ve been performing, and they need to be consistent, like everyone when your number is called you need to step up and get through.”
“When you go through the volume of games that we’re currently going through,” he added. “It’s very important that the team stays together and the people understand that you’re not going to play every minute of every game, so when your number is called you need to step up to make sure you’re prepared to give what the team needs.”
O’Connor also complimented Michel and Patiño on their willingness to learn and ability to absorb all of the information that gets thrown at them.
“You can get some players perhaps that you can have multiple meetings, you can leave those meetings and think ‘okay, he’s got it now’ and they show you true action if they don’t,” O’Connor said. “But with both of those guys, you feel that when you have the conversation there is an understanding and there’s an intention from them to implement what you’re speaking about.”
The growth among the entire group has been an impressive thing to watch throughout the season, and it’s another reason to believe that better things are waiting ahead for Orlando City, which unlike in years past now have an exciting core to build around.
For more soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer