Orlando City has not hidden its desire to win and compete for championships. With the MLS salary cap, that led to painful cuts in pursuit of that victory.
Orlando City has made it no secret it intends to win at MLS. And win soon.
If there was any lesson to take from the first year in MLS, it is that there is a ton of parity. Teams at the top of the standings can lose to teams at the bottom of the standings pretty easily. It is very easy to move up and down.
But to get to the top and stay at the top — something Orlando City was accustomed to in its USL days — that takes hard decisions and smart cap management.
Orlando City’s strategy in building its inaugural team was to spend some big money on the front line players — using all three designated player spots — and then invest in several young players with MLS veterans to fill the gaps. The plan had limited success, but Orlando City faced a bevy of injuries and the young players had to take a step forward.
The lesson from the Lions’ first season was that depth mattered some. With international duty and injuries, the Lions were down to their rookies pretty quickly. And so they have to spend their money wisely.
And with that, Orlando City made its first round of cuts with some surprising and hard decisions getting the axe.
The Lions cut starting goalkeeper Tally Hall, most notably, along with consistent defender Lewis Neal. These seemed to be largely financial moves, designed to help Orlando City clear cap and make moves for other players.
That appeared to be the motivation, according to Paul Tenorio of the Orlando Sentinel:
The decision to move on from Hall could bring major savings under the cap for the Lions if they choose to go with Edwards Jr. as the starter in 2016. Edwards Jr. was drafted out of UCLA in the third round of the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and impressed coaches. He made the league-minimum $50,000 in 2015 and his option was exercised by Orlando City.
Homegrown signing Mason Stajduhar was recently added to the roster, and his number will not count against Orlando City’s cap. The Lions could look for a cheaper veteran to back-up Edwards in 2016, or they might have plans to search the international and MLS markets for a starting goalkeeper to slot in above Edwards on the depth chart.
The Lions appear to like Earl Edwards Jr. a little bit — he stepped in well during Orlando City’s U.S. Open Cup play. He has yet to log a minute in MLS play though.
In any case, the Lions are likely to add a veteran player to help reduce the cap hit and spend it elsewhere.
These are the decisions teams have to make. It was not that Hall played poorly. Hall was great with an always-rotating defense in front of him. Even though Orlando City decided not to bring longtime goalkeeper Miguel Gallardo to MLS with them, Hall quickly endeared himself to fans. His return helped turn much of Orlando City’s season around.
The Lions have a big hole to fill.
But they have numerous holes to fill too. Orlando City has to work itself around the MLS salary cap to fill these holes and remain competitive. Having Kaka and getting Kevin Molino back will help. So too will Cyle Larin’s return and the growth of some of Orlando’s young players in Rafael Ramos and Bryan Rochez.
Adding a few more consistent veterans with the remaining cap space and building up the team’s depth should give Orlando City a fair shot at making the playoffs next year.