KISSIMMEE, Fla. -- Prior to its second season in MLS Next PRO, Orlando City B Head Coach Martín Perelman wanted to set a tone early in the year, especially with a new, young group coming together. The tone was simple: grow the players and win games.
And that's exactly what OCB did throughout the 2023 season.
Finishing fifth in the Eastern Conference standings, the young Lions scored the third-most goals in the entire league with 59, 19 of them coming from league MVP and Golden Boot winner Jack Lynn. Growth also came in the total number of wins on the season with 13, doubling 2022's total.
For Perelman, it was exactly the maturation of the group he was hoping for, both on and off the pitch.
"I think that we were able to build a new team, we were able to create a pretty similar environment in terms of the first team and second team," he told OrlandoCitySC.com. "We have a really similar culture inside both locker rooms, with a winning competitive mentality, and at the same time, we were able to develop players. We were able to compete in the league as well, and I think that we decided how to win and how to lose and that was important for us."
Ultimately, those successes have also led to individual accolades for OCB players. Just recently the Lions starting center back Nabi Kibunguchi made his debut for the Kenya Men's National Team, while first-team players Wilfredo Rivera and Abdi Salim, who spent most of their season with OCB, were called in for Puerto Rico and Somalia, respectively. In addition to the international call-ups, goalkeeper Javier Otero signed a Homegrown contract with the first team, securing his pathway from the Lions Academy, through the B team and into the first team.
That pathway set by Otero and Favian Loyola last year is something that Perelman is focused the most on heading into next season, trying to bridge the gaps between the Orlando City Academy, OCB and Orlando City and create pathways for young players to succeed at the next level.
"I think that the academy players are doing an amazing job," he said. "We were able to see Alejandro Granados' story as a big example. Other academy players like Favian Loyola, Tahir Reid-Brown and Zakaria Taifi, there's a lot of players doing a big job in OCB, being able to come to play, to succeed, to be outstanding and reach the first team, or in the case of Granados, to be sold to Europe in the first-ever transfer between OCB and Europe. So I think the second team as a bridge between the Academy and the first team, as the belt of the suit, is working. It's working much, much faster than we thought. I remember setting a goal to sell a player from OCB to Europe in two years, and we did it in six months. So I think it's working, and I'm really proud of the job we continue to do."
As Perelman and OCB now look ahead to year three in MLS Next PRO, the two focuses for the team will be to continue that pathway, but to also maintain and build upon the groundwork that was laid down in 2023.
"Maintain the goals, maintain the performance, maintain the structure," Perelman said. "It's not easy, it's the most difficult thing in soccer, so I hope we can do that first of all. I hope that we can keep helping the first team. I hope that we can keep helping the academy players in their development process in keep taking advantage of the opportunities that the market gives us with the young, pro-potential players. And then of course we want to sell another player, we want more players to make their debut in the first team, we want our team to be competitive again. Every time we put Orlando City jersey on, whether it's the Academy, OCB or first team, we represent this crest, we want to win, and we want to push this level as high as possible. We defend this club with our life, and this is the mentality here in Orlando. So I hope we can do that again in 2024."