On June 30, Orlando City announced their plans to field a USL (United Soccer League) team for the 2016 season, bringing more professional soccer to the City Beautiful. Soon after that announcement, the Club named former Lions midfielder Anthony Pulis as the new team’s head coach. On Tuesday afternoon, former defender and Club captain Rob Valentino joined as Pulis’ assistant.
Using former players or coaches to lead their USL team is a common approach among other MLS clubs. Of the eight current MLS clubs with USL sides, five have named head coach’s that have a strong affiliation with the organizations—four of them named coaches that made the move from the MLS team’s assistant coach to USL head coach, and one had recently ended a five-year playing stint with the respective club.
USL teams that are run by MLS clubs, similar to that of Orlando City, are used as reserve teams. The league in many ways serves as a development feeder system for MLS, having had many players climb up the ladder through youth academies with the end goal of landing a spot within the First Team.
“It’s going to be a developmental team,” Pulis recently said about the USL side. “My job description is going to be to produce players that are ready to hopefully go and make the jump and play in the MLS team for Adrian Heath.”
As Pulis states, the point of the team is to prepare players that aren’t quite ready for the senior team for that final jump. In order to do this, the coach must know how Heath coaches and must be an expert in the style that the senior team plays. This will make those players’ transition to the senior team much easier.
“The most important thing for us is they’re going to be under our umbrella,” Heath stated about the new USL team. “They’re going to be playing under one of our coaches playing the same way the First Team does.”
When Pulis retired following the 2014 season, his third with the Club, he was immediately given a position as an academy coach. Since then Pulis has been working with Heath, the First Team as well as working toward his coaching badges to prepare for the role he has recently been given.
The addition of Valentino is not much different from that of Pulis. Having joined the Club in its inaugural season in 2011, Valentino soon became captain—a role he would hold until his departure following the 2014 season. His four years under Heath give Valentino a similar advantage than that of Pulis’.
“From my understanding of what we’re trying to build there is more of player development,” Valentino said during Tuesday night’s coach’s show. “Just turning young kids into good pros.”
Like the five other MLS clubs that have named former players or coaches to the staff of the USL side, Orlando City understands the importance of putting those familiar with the club in charge of the development of talented younger players.
After playing under Pulis and Valentino, the move to the senior team will be a seamless one.