23 February 2012

Disney preview: Orlando City

The 2012 Disney Pro Soccer Classic starts on Friday, signaling the final countdown to the MLS season. I’ll be calling games at the tournament for the third straight year, teaming up with Simon Borg as part of MLSsoccer.com’s coverage of the group stage and then working the final day of the tournament on the ESPN3 broadcasts. As the week goes on, I’ll preview each of the eight teams set to participate in Orlando.

The tournament starts on Friday, but half of the teams will kick off on Saturday. This is the third edition of the tournament, but only the second with a host club. Orlando City, from the United Soccer Leagues’ PRO League, debuted last year and split its two games against MLS teams. Orlando City then won the inaugural USL PRO title on penalty kicks, and they’re ready for more MLS competition this year.

Disney Pro Soccer Classic
Team Previews

The basics
Team: Orlando City (USL PRO)
Head Coach: Adrian Heath (5th season)

2011 results: 15-3-6, 1st place, American Division
Playoffs: Beat Charleston 3-1 in extra time, beat Richmond 3-0, tied Harrisburg 2-2 in extra time and won penalty shootout

Returning Starters: MF/DF Luke Boden, GK Miguel Gallardo, FW Maxwell Griffin, DF Mechack Jerome, MF Kevin Molino, DF Rob Valentino, FW Jamie Watson
Key Newcomers: FW Matt Luzunaris, MF James O’Connor, MF Anthony Pulis, MF John Rooney

I’m looking forward to watching …
John Rooney. OK, I hate to give in to hype and the Rooney name, but I’m just curious at this point (if you haven't heard, this is Wayne Rooney's younger brother). John Rooney is still only 21, he's wearing No. 10, and I liked that he stepped up to take the penalty kick awarded for Orlando against Philadelphia. On the other hand, he didn’t play at all last year for New York, and he promptly saw that penalty kick saved b yZac MacMath. Does this guy have a chance at a career in the USL? These three games should go a long way toward determining his spot at the start of the season.

Most important player …
Rob Valentino. A 26-year-old former first-round draft pick who never played an MLS game in three seasons split between New England and Colorado, Valentino thrived with Orlando last year, earning league Defender of the Year honors as Orlando posted the league’s best defense. A former University of San Francisco player, the 6-foot-3 Valentino will be key to Orlando keeping things tight at the back. 

Under the radar …
Orlando City fans. The city seems a true long shot for MLS expansion, but the impressive crowds during Orlando’s playoff run last year have earned them public consideration, and MLS commissioner Don Garber will be in town near the end of the tournament. Many preseason tournaments have rather relaxed atmospheres, but Orlando City fans certainly brought their game last year, when player/coach Ian Fuller scored to knock off Toronto, and they could make three games, at least, very vibrant.

On trial …
Since the USL season does not start until April, Orlando is in the very beginning of its preseason and will see plenty of new trialists after final MLS cuts are made. Midfielder Lewis Neal is on trial with Real Salt Lake, the club that already employs former Orlando standout Yordany Alvarez. What’s more, getting names of unsigned players from Orlando City in preseason can be a bit of a chore. The team literally provided a false name last year to keep players under wraps. This year, they’ve been a bit more forthcoming, and several players saw action against Philadelphia. They include several local players; midfielder Dustin McCarty, recently released by the LA Galaxy; defender Logan Emory, a former Portland and Puerto Rico Islanders player; and Don Smart, formerly of USL rival FC New York.

Saturday, February 25, 6 p.m. ET, Orlando vs. Toronto FC
(MLSsoccer.com – Yardley / Borg)
Tuesday, February 28, 8 p.m. ET, Orlando vs. FC Dallas
(MLSsoccer.com – Yardley / Borg)
Thursday, March 1, 8 p.m. ET, Orlando vs. BK Hacken
(MLSsoccer.com – Williams / Yadrich)
USL PRO Opener: Saturday, April 7, 7 p.m. ET, Orlando at Charleston Battery
(Blackbaud Stadium)
USL PRO Home Opener: Sunday, April 15, 6 p.m. ET
Orlando vs. Wilmington Hammerheads
(Citrus Bowl)

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