We are just a week out from the 2021 MLS SuperDraft presented by adidas, taking place on January 21 at 2:00 pm EST, with the first round set to be streamed live on MLSSoccer.com and the league’s social media platforms.
Orlando City picks twice in the opening round. The Lions have the 22nd overall selection based on their finish in the MLS standings, plus the 19th pick thanks to a deal made last summer with Philadelphia for the Homegrown Player rights to defender Nathan Harriel. Orlando City will also pick 49th overall, near the end of the second round.
We’ll have more next week on the sort of players Orlando could find at their draft slots, but let’s take a look back at some of the more notable picks from the Lions’ first six drafts. As you’ll see, Orlando City has had ample success in finding players big and small from the college ranks.
Cyle Larin (2015, 1st overall)
Awarded the No. 1 pick coming into their expansion season, Orlando City quickly pounced on the top player available, UConn striker Cyle Larin. The Canadian lit up the college game, scoring 23 times in 39 appearances for the Huskies, and was the obvious number 1 selection coming into the draft.
Larin lived up to his billing, to say the least. The No. 9 broke out with a 17-goal rookie season, winning MLS Rookie of the Year and breaking into the senior Canadian national team set-up for the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup and FIFA World Cup qualification. In three seasons for Orlando City, Larin scored 43 MLS regular season goals, leading the team in scoring in each of the franchise’s first three years in MLS.
Richie Laryea (2016, 7th overall)
Another Canadian, Laryea was a bit of a project coming out of Akron. The Toronto native had 11 G/7 A in a sophomore season that saw the Zips reach the NCAA Tournament semifinals, but questions abounded about his positional fit at the professional level.
Bouncing between Orlando City B and the first team over three years, Laryea never quite caught on with the Lions, producing just one assist across 22 appearances and 503 minutes in purple. Laryea moved to Toronto for the 2019 season and was moved from attacking midfield to fullback, where he became a locked-on starter for the Reds and put himself back into the Canadian national team conversation.
It may not have worked out for Laryea in Orlando, but the Lions once again found a top talent in the draft. In a wild note, Orlando City’s pick was even used on a top player in 2017, when Atlanta United used the selection to draft Julian Gressel (the Lions sent the pick to the Five Stripes for Donny Toia).
The next year, Orlando’s nose for talent would begin to work in their favor for good.
Chris Mueller (2018, 6th overall)
Another major Orlando City draft success came in 2018, when the Lions snagged Big Ten Player of the Year Chris Mueller out of Wisconsin. Mueller, like Laryea, was a productive player on a good team whose position was open for debate. Some thought he’d be a No. 10, while others saw him more as a second forward.
After starting his rookie year at the second striker spot, Mueller gradually moved out wide, where he began to really make waves. He got hot in April, scoring in three consecutive matches, before fading down the stretch as the Lions’ results took a turn for the worse. Still, Mueller set the Orlando rookie record with seven assists and appeared to be a promising prospect. He continued to flash in 2019, scoring five times and chipping in four helpers for an improved but still inconsistent side.
2020 saw Mueller come into his own. “Cash” broke out with three goals in the first two games of the MLS is Back tournament and never looked back, finishing with 10 G/7 A in just 1477 regular season minutes. Mueller was second in MLS in goals and assists per 90 minutes and, with Nani, formed one of the most lethal winger tandems in the league. He finished his year with a Man of the Match debut for the U.S. Men’s National Team against El Salvador, scoring twice and assisting another goal in his first cap.
Of the five players picked ahead of Mueller, two are without a club, one is in USL, another (Tristan Blackmon) is a spot starter for LAFC, and the fifth, drafted first overall, is now Mueller’s teammate – Joao Moutinho.
Kamal Miller (2019, 27th overall)
Orlando had done extremely well at the top of the draft, but with new Executive Vice President of Soccer Operations Luiz Muzzi’s arrival came a nose for the later rounds as well.
Kamal Miller was well-regarded for his leadership ability and poise coming out of Syracuse, but he somehow fell out of the first round and into Orlando’s range at the top of the second. Muzzi pounced, and Miller blossomed with the Lions, featuring at both center back and left back in two seasons for Orlando City and making his way into the Canadian national team set-up.
Recognized for his talent, Miller was taken in the 2021 MLS Expansion Draft by Austin FC and immediately shipped to CF Montreal for a substantial haul – $225,000 in GAM and the 11th overall pick in the 2021 SuperDraft. Miller should continue to thrive in his native Canada.
Daryl Dike and Joey DeZart (2020, 5th and 31st overall)
It was a surprise when Virginia sophomore Daryl Dike declared for the MLS SuperDraft just days before the event. Despite experts declaring him the best player in the pool, Dike slipped to the 5th pick, where Muzzi did not hesitate to call his name.
Without much tape to go by, some wondered if the 20 year-old Dike was too raw to make an impact at the MLS level. Dike answered those questions immediately upon his move into the starting XI in August, scoring three goals and providing two assists in his first three games and winning the league’s Player of the Month award, the first rookie to do so since Jonathan Bornstein for Chivas USA in 2006. Dike finished the year with 8 G/4 A in 1224 minutes and should find himself in the mix for the United States Olympic team this summer.
While perhaps not as buzzed about as Dike, Joey DeZart proved to be a valuable piece in 2020. Taken as a defensive midfielder out of Wake Forest near the top of the second round, DeZart was forced into duty in the fall thanks to injuries and international duty in the Orlando City midfield. DeZart more than held his own across 373 minutes, helping the Lions keep pace with the top of the East and earn a home playoff game.
What talent will Orlando City unearth in the 2021 MLS SuperDraft? We’ll find out next Thursday.