New York, Orlando Continue Building Toward 2015 MLS Season

David Villa

Next year, Major League Soccer opens its doors to two new franchises in the Eastern Conference. New York City FC and Orlando City SC will kick off in 2015 and the two new sides have already generated a ton of hype in their respective cities.

New York City FC is a team owned by the same ownership group of English Premier League side Manchester City and it shows: the baby blue home kit, complete with Etihad Airways sponsor logo, is a direct homage to its parent club and the comparisons don’t end there: like its big brother, New York has already made a huge splash in the transfer window, flexing its financial muscles by signing two massive stars in David Villa and Frank Lampard.

In Villa, New York has acquired a striker who not only leads Spain in all-time goals scored but is also a game changer on his own. His ability to find the back of the net when it most counts makes him a clutch performer and he might just prove to be the deadliest weapon in all of the league. Behind him, he will combine with the immeasurable experience of Lampard, a Chelsea legend in his own right, who, despite his age at 36 years old, is still a fine talent.

So fine, in fact, that Manchester City – who currently employ Lampard on loan – don’t want to let him go until the end of the Premier League season!

Clearly, New York attracts some big names but Orlando has gone stride-for-stride with their new cousins to the north, too. Orlando City, owned by a Brazilian billionaire named Flavio Augusto da Silva, made one phone call to his good friend Kaká and signed him as the club’s first Designated Player.

Kaká was once considered the world’s best player after he won the FIFA Ballon D’Or in 2007. Since then, he has had stints at Real Madrid and most recently a loan to Sao Paulo where he impressed in the Brazilian leagues. Decked out in the new royal purple of Orlando, Kaká will look to bring some Brazilian magic to MLS.

With two new teams in the Eastern Conference and the death of Chivas USA in the West, Major League Soccer has made some adjustments to the league for next season. Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo have been moved from the East to the West, bringing the total to 20 teams, 10 in each conference. To accommodate for further expansion by 2020, the league has also adopted a 12-team playoff format, so six of those 10 teams will make the postseason in each respective conference.

Playoffs and the MLS Cup will be the main goal for both New York and Orlando, who will want to kick off as fast and as strong as possible. But the two teams will need to build their rosters first, and they have already gotten to that job with the 2015 MLS Expansion Draft now done and dusted.

Both teams were allowed 10 picks from a pool of players available from the other 18 teams in MLS, plus players from Chivas USA. Not every player was available for selection, though: each team could protect 11 players from being selected and any players who fit the “homegrown player” label were automatically protected, too.

In the end, both New York and Orlando adopted similar strategies in the Expansion Draft, picking some players for its own squads or trading other players off for other assets. This, coupled with a trade window, allowed both New York and Orlando to add some quality pieces to their respective teams.

Orlando, in particular, has been active in the trade window, picking up three highly experienced MLS regulars. The club brass, spearheaded by head coach Adrian Heath, snatched up Houston’s starting goalkeeper Tally Hall, MLS MVP central defender Aurelien Collin from Sporting KC, and one of Philadelphia’s brightest stars in defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo.

New York, led by former Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis, took a different approach, using the Expansion Draft to reconnect with some of his former players, Chris Wingert and Ned Grabavoy. The big steals for New York came from New England and Dallas, though, as Kreis went after Patrick Mullins from the Revolution and then added Dallas’ injured central defender, George John.

Mullins showed tremendous potential in 2014 while John was once considered one of the finest central defenders in the league. Injuries to John kept him out of the team sheet in 2014 but if New York can get him healthy again, he’ll be a tremendous asset in the team’s back line, to partner with Josh Williams from the Columbus Crew, another steal for the team.

Orlando’s other big Expansion Draft moves came in the form of Donovan Ricketts, the Jamaican goalkeeper who, despite being moved around quite a bit in the last three years, is still a fine addition to any new roster. Orlando also doubled up on its Brazilian midfield influence by selecting Pedro Ribeiro from Philadelphia, a player the Union most certainly did not want to lose.

Of course, there was some funny business involved, including shipping off some of the players selected in the expansion draft to other teams. In New York’s case, the new side selected a promising young winger from Toronto FC in Dan Lovitz but within hours, Toronto had paid New York in allocation money to get him back.

New York and Orlando will continue to develop their respective rosters into the offseason, with the MLS Re-Entry Draft providing another opportunity for selection and for trades among all 20 teams. Following that, the MLS SuperDraft will provide these two new sides with picks one and two respectively, giving them new, long-term options. Expect a few more Designated Player signings to follow from these free-spending sides, too.

The Eastern Conference in shaping up well with New York and Orlando; 2015 should be an interesting year with these two new clubs coming in to MLS.

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Armen Bedakian
Armen Bedakian is a soccer writer covering every aspect of the game in Major League Soccer and around the world. I love a crunching slide tackle, but can't stand a bad offside call. Follow me on Twitter - @ArmenBedakian