Just because it's the offseason and we fans get distracted by the holidays and other sports, it doesn't mean that everything grinds to a halt within the offices of the club. In case you missed any of the news, here's a roundup of some of the most interesting and noteworthy changes to affect the club and its teams since Rudolph and Santa made their annual rounds from the North Pole:
Front Office Changes
Leadership Shuffle - Arguably the biggest news of the off-season involved Phil Rawlins stepping down from his active role as club President for personal reasons. No further details were made public, but the news came almost at the same time as he and Kay Rawlins announced they were separating. Phil has been named Club Life-President, while Alex Leitao will assume a more active role in day-to-day operations. Anxious fans may see shadows of the off-season turmoil that rocked the club after the 2015 season. I am hopeful that the change is not a political move but one that really is designed to let Phil focus more on personal and family matters after the enormous effort and stress he's put on himself to bring Orlando City to Florida, build the club into an MLS franchise, and spearhead the effort to build a new soccer-specific stadium. He certainly deserves some time to relax after all of that, and this fan hopes we will continue to see him about and around at matches, events, and other functions.
Player Personnel Changes
Orlando City signs Victor "PC" Giro - The roster for Orlando City gained a little more youth when Victor Giro (known as PC) was signed from NASL side Tampa Bay Rowdies. Giro was with the Rowdies for the second half of the 2016 season. Prior to that, he played with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers and he scored the winning goal for that side against Orlando City in their Round of 16 victory in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match last season.
Four Orlando Pride Stars Earn USWNT Call Ups - The blessing and curse of having great players in a small league is that so many of them earn honors for their national team. Earlier this month, it was announced that Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, Kristen Edmonds, and Ali Krieger would be called up for the USWNT camp in the middle of January. It was previously announced in December that Alex Morgan would start 2017 playing for French side Olympique Lyonnais, so she will be missing from the Pride lineup until the French season ends and that club concludes any playoff run.
OCSC Re-signs Carrasco, Alston, and Hines - Servando Carrasco, Kevin Alston, and Seb Hines were re-signed to contracts with OCSC for the 2017 season. After Coach Jason Kreis arrived in the middle of the 2016 season, it was clear that Servando Carrasco was someone that bought into the new coach's scheme. He has always played with great energy and enthusiasm, and figured in some critical moments of the 2016 season, including getting the long-range assist on the goal that earned a draw in the dying seconds of the opening match of the year against Real Salt Lake. Hines is known for his prowess scoring goals with his head, and Alston is a speedy defender with the range to cover the entire length of the pitch when the need arises.
Orlando Pride Add Offense in NWSL Draft - Serious sports fans often quote the old maxim "defense wins championships," but the truth is that "offense puts eyes on the game." In showing that the club leadership is serious about building the excitement and crowds for the NWSL Orlando Pride, they selected more offense in the draft earlier this month. In the third round, the Pride selected striker Danica Evans from the University of Colorado. Evans scored 11 goals in her senior season, and was invited to attend the U-23 USWNT camp earlier this month. In the fourth round, the Pride selected midfielder Nickolette Driesse from Penn State. Driesse won a championship in her sophomore season as a member of the same FSU roster that produced the Pride's Jamia Fields, and she won a National Championship in her junior season with Penn State, where she scored five goals and registered twelve assists.
Orlando City SC Drafts Danny Deakin - In the MLS Super Draft, the MLS side selected Danny Deakin, who played for Detroit City FC of the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) in 2016. Prior to going pro in this country, Deakin played his college soccer for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Deakin is an attacking midfielder, and continues the trend of signing more specialists at getting the ball into the opponent's net. At some point one begins to wonder if we will see a 2-3-5 formation with fully half the field players charged with the task of scoring goals every match.
Orlando Pride Acquire Rights to Rachel Hill - In the 2017 draft, the Portland Thorns selected Rachel Hill, but in a deal struck subsequent to the draft, the Orlando Pride have acquired rights to the striker. Hill scored 61 goals and registered 18 assists as a collegiate player with the UConn Huskies, who play in the American Athletic Conference (AAC) along with local team UCF. Hill's collegiate record puts her second all time in career goals for the school, and fourth all time in total points (140) scored during her career.
Orlando Pride Trade Witteman for Alanna Kennedy - Australian Women's National Team member Alanna Kennedy is headed to Orlando from the North Carolina Courage (formerly the Western New York Flash) in exchange for Sam Witteman. Witteman played her rookie NWSL season for the Pride and established herself as a great rookie talent. While it's sad to see her leave, it's exciting to see Kennedy join the club. At only the tender age of 21, Kennedy already has nearly 50 caps for her National Team, and has won regular season titles and championship cups as a professional since the age of 16, when she played for Sydney FC. Kennedy has played on teams that have reached the Grand Final of the Austrailian W-League four times, winning the cup in 2013 with Sydney. And in her first season in NWSL, the defender helped Western New York win a championship in 2016.
OCSC Goalkeeper Coach Returns to Canada - Stewart Kerr, who came to Orlando City SC as goalkeeper coach at the same time Joe Bendik joined the team, has accepted a position with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. Under Kerr's guidance, Bendik won the MLS Save of the Week 11 times in 2016 and finished with the second-highest save total in the league. I hope that the new keeper coach will continue helping Bendik perform at the same high level this season, as he certainly deserved the team MVP award he won at the season-ending banquet after the conclusion of last year's campaign.
Tim Mulqueen Joins OCSC as First Team Goalkeeper Coach - Former MLS and Youth National Team goalkeeper coach Tim Mulqueen has joined Orlando City as first team Goalkeeper Coach. In addition to extensive experience working with some of the legends of US Goalkeeping, including Tony Meola, Mulqueen has also previously worked with Joe Bendik, Earl Edwards, Jr., and Mason Stajduhar, so he is familiar with many faces in the net for the club.
USL Granted Division 2 Status - Soccer, like baseball, is divided into major and minor professional leagues in nearly every country where it is played, but the designation for these differences is called "divisions" by FIFA, the sport's governing body. In the US, MLS is the top "major league" or "Division 1" league. The NASL has been considered the Division 2 league in the past and USL has held the rank of the 3rd Division league. Now, starting in the 2017 season, USL will be considered a Division 2 league.
USL Conference Alignment Announced - USL announced that the league will feature 30 teams in two conferences this season. Each team will play 32 games during the year. Most of those games will consist of a home-and-away match against each of the other 14 teams in their conference, with the remaining four matches being against regional rivals, and no team playing any single opponent more than 3 times in the regular season. The top eight teams from each conference will advance to the playoffs, and the USL Cup Final will be played in mid-November.
These are some of the most significant updates and changes in the club over the last few weeks, at least from my perspective. What are some of the other stories that caught your eye? Let me know in the comments below!