As the days continue to tick by at a pace much akin to the movement of a tectonic plate, Orlando City were in the unique position of not having to make any seismic moves in this draft. But they did just that. OK, maybe seismic is a little strong, but you get the picture.
This draft was always something of a free hit for the Lions. Coming off the back of their most successful MLS season to date, the Lions found themselves in the somewhat aberrant (and advantageous) position of picking relatively low down the draft. The need to pick an outstanding performer, such as a Daryl Dike, seemingly wasn't there.
Apparently I was wrong. Shocking, right? Luiz Muzzi and co. certainly averted my expectations. Frankly, I expected left-back to be the position we strengthened here. We all know that João Moutinho is out for some time, and the Lions are short of cover there. That didn't happen. Orlando actually ended up doing the one thing I thought they wouldn't. They traded up, and gained an extra pick. And then used said pick to walk away with one of the top talents on the board. Who, I hear you ask? Fear not my young padawan, I shall attempt to enlighten you. So without further ado, let's take a look at how the 2021 MLS SuperDraft panned out for Orlando City SC.
Derek Dodson, Georgetown University, Forward.
With the 8th overall pick, Orlando City selected Georgetown striker Derek Dodson. Yep, this was the pick I referenced earlier. The one they traded up for. That thing I said they definitely wouldn't do. Yep. Anyway, let's not dwell on that... In exchange for a total of $100,000 in general allocation money, the Portland Timbers conceded their hold on the 8th overall pick. A pick that was subsequently used to select Dodson. Obvs.
The mercurial attacker has plundered 30 goals from 47 starts and 18 substitute appearances in his time with Wake Forest. Whilst I never expected Orlando to trade up the draft, let alone for a forward, in retrospect it makes a lot of sense. Dom Dwyer and Santiago Patino have both departed the club, so Dodson provides cover for the likes of Daryl Dike, Benji Michel and Tesho Akindele.
Luiz Muzzi expressed his pleasure at being able to land the Aurora, IL native: “We liked Dodson a lot, since we saw him play last year in the final, and we thought this a great move to get a guy that we really wanted. We think there’s a lot of talent. We think that college is a part of our system and we value our system. There’s a lot of good players in college, a lot of great programs out there that do a great job. We’re really happy.”
Dodson certainly has some impressive scoring statistics. He averages just shy of a goal every other game, and possesses an impressive shot ratio of 2.49 per game. Of his 70 shots on target, 30 found the back of the net during his collegiate career. You'll see from the highlights reel below that Dodson has a decent turn of pace, as well as being direct and strong on the ball. He also scores different types of goals. He's not just the archetypal 'fox in the box', he's capable of scoring from range and making his own chances. And that's a valuable commodity when playing as a lone striker, particularly in Orlando's system.
When you consider the system Oscar Pareja seems to favour, in terms of the 4-2-3-1, Dodson seems to be the sort of player who could thrive. Whilst he may not have the physical presence of a Dike (who does?), he's certainly no shrinking violet. He is a player with a high soccer IQ, who has that innate ability to find space at the right time; a trait that should allow him to link up well with the likes of Mauricio Pereyra. Whilst I would undoubtedly advocate for tempered expectations, his acquisition is certainly a promising one.
Rio Hope-Gund , Georgetown, Defender.
Even the most casual Orlando City observer would have doubtless identified central defence as an area of need for this squad, heading into the 2021 season. With Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson and Rodrigo Schlegel the only recognised senior centre backs, it makes sense to draft some talent at that position. Michael Halliday will continue his education under Oscar Pareja, ahead of what could be a break out season for the youngster. The club also lost Kamal Miller, and declined their option on Alex DeJohn during the off -season. Considering the team's need for depth in the centre of their defence, this pick (at 19th overall) makes a whole lot of sense.
Rio Hope-Gund is your stereo-typical 6"1 central defender. A player who is equally adept in the air as he is when playing the ball out from the back. He started 24 games and made 12 substitute appearances during his collegiate career, tallying 2 goals and 2 assists. It's always useful to have a defender who can contribute at the other end of the pitch. Having lost Kamal Miller during the off-season, recruiting depth at centre-back was always a must for Oscar Pareja. Something Luiz Muzzi spoke to in the aftermath of the draft:
“With the two center backs, we have a need for the position. We need depth,” Orlando City Executive Vice President Luiz Muzzi said. “We lost Kamal (Miller), a left-footed centre-back/left back. In Hackenberg we got another guy who can play the position (more on him shortly). Hope-Gund was a guy that we rated high and we thought there was a chance he was going to get there to 19, but we thought it was a small chance. So, when we saw that he was available we were really happy with that. It’s a need that we tried to fill and we’re really happy with those two picks.”
Brandon Hackenburg, Penn State, Defender
Brandon Hackenburg (22nd overall pick) is another highly rated central defender. As previously mentioned, he's a left sided centre-back with good technical ability. The Palmyra, VA native also has an impressive college CV. With 45 appearances (36 starts) the young defender has contributed to 12 clean sheets for the Nittany Lions. In 2019 he won first-team All Big Ten honours; he was also named Big Ten defensive player of the week that September (24th). Hackenberg was, understandably, delighted to be picked:
"I'm super thankful and blessed for the opportunity," said Hackenberg. "It is honestly one of the best moments of my life. A huge thanks goes out to all my teammates and the staff for pushing me during my time at Penn State – I wouldn't be in this position without them. There's still work to be done here but I'm very excited for this opportunity."
Definitely one for the future, especially as the Lions won't be able to call on him straight away. Hackenberg intends to see out the Spring series for Penn. State, he will then link up with Oscar Pareja's Lions shortly afterwards.
Andrew Pannenberg, Wake Forest, Goalkeeper.
To round out this year's edition of the MLS SuperDraft (Orlando City will not pick in rounds 3 and 4), the Lions selected Andrew Pannenburg (Charlotte, NC) out of Wake Forest at 49th overall. The talented stopper joins the Lions at a time where their goalkeeper depth isn't nailed on. Pedro Gallese will continue as first choice, but doubts remain over the future of Brian Rowe.
The former LA Galaxy stopper has yet to sign on for the 2021 season, and with the outcome of the CBA still to be arranged, his future is still up in the air. Such circumstances probably necessitate an insurance policy. Pannenberg is a low risk move in that regard. Besides, there are still doubts over 3rd string 'keeper Mason Stajduhar. The 23-year-old has yet to make an MLS appearance for Orlando, so there are still serious question marks there. EDIT: the club has (since publication) signed Brandon Austin on loan from Tottenham Hotspur, which could suggest a shake up in the goalkeeping department.
As for Pannenberg himself he's arguably one of the more capable goalkeepers in this draft class. He started all 9 of Wake Forest's autumn season games, chalking up 4 clean sheets, totting up 26 saves in the process for a 0.77 save average. Only allowing 7 goals in that time, the stopper made a career high 6 saves during a 2-1 win over Duke in October. At 6"3 he is an imposing physical presence between the sticks. He's a confident youngster, with solid shot stopping abilities and distribution. He commands his area well, which is accentuated by a level of self-belief often associated with anyone mad enough to be a goalkeeper.
What did you make of Orlando's picks? Let us know via the usual channels.