I've already written about the utter failure that was Orlando City B, but that's the past. That was the Orlando City B of the previous ownership, the Orlando City B of the USL. It's a new era in the evolution of the Orlando City reserves.
MLS NEXT Pro is the new developmental league starting this season, with reserve teams from all 28 MLS clubs, plus St. Louis CITY SC, who join MLS in 2023, and an independent club in Rochester, New York. The young Lions opened their debut campaign Saturday, winning 2-0 over the Chicago Fire reserves thanks to a Jack Lynn brace.
The return of OCB flashed the new potential of a reserve squad, especially with a revamped Orlando City academy propelling it. Orlando City homegrown and Puerto Rican international winger Wilfredo Rivera captained the squad on the day and showed his attacking potential. Lynn, the club's first round draft pick, showed promise as a goal-dangerous striker. Alex Freeman, a talented attacking right back, got his first professional minutes since signing his homegrown contract this winter.
With the revamped academy system, there's a real pipeline of talent working its way through the system, but there are no immediate contributors, except maybe Mikie Halliday and Thomas Williams. A new OCB, one with more structure and aligned principles with the first team, can provide the valuable minutes that the likes of Rivera and Freeman need at this stage in their career.
There are limits to what MLS NEXT Pro can be as a developmental league. It's effectively a youth league with the occasional USL veteran thrown in. That roster construction limits the growth of young players. Getting meaningful minutes against actual grown professionals is generally a lot more productive than playing other youth players.
Eventually, players like Rivera need to start playing at the MLS level, or maybe spending time on loan in the USL Championship, a league that continues to improve, or even overseas. But getting minutes in the system at a professional level, even if it's just MLS NEXT Pro, is a positive step in player development. And as this new league and OCB grows, it'll only help grow Orlando City into the talent pipeline Central Florida can be.