Orlando City spent the better part of the last six months consolidating its power. With an MLS move now officially in the cards for 2015, general manager Paul McDonough and coach Adrian Heath have been aggressively attempting to build the team’s profile, notably with young homegrown signings like Tyler Turner and Tommy Redding. Even Brazilian star Kaka is rumored to be a target.
But under the hood, the club is quietly overhauling its Development Academy program, and two major dominos fell last week. The club announced on April 3 the addition of former Elon men’s head coach Darren Powell and North Carolina men’s assistant coach Jeff Negalha to its academy system. Their arrival coincides with Orlando City’s announcement earlier this year that it plans to join the vast majority of MLS clubs by making its academy program fully funded.
“Just really looking forward to getting started in the day-to-day routine of the new position,” Powell said. “It’s still a few weeks away, but I can really relish in that chance.”
By most accounts, the signings were a coup. The two coaches represented two of the most stable men’s programs in the nation with a track record for producing professionals. Powell was seemingly at the height of his power after guiding Elon to a program-best 13 wins in 2013, while Negalha helped oversee a nearly decade-long run at Chapel Hill that included a stunning 119-38-26 record and the 2011 national title.
With a combined 18 years experience at their previous posts, Negalha and Powell represent a major statement for Orlando City’s development apparatus. The club currently fields U14, U16 and U18 teams in the Development Academy, but neither of the latter two are currently in position to make the playoffs. The U16 team sits in fifth, two points off the postseason pace, while the U18 side is last place in the Southeast Division with 20 losses from 25 games.
Powell and Negalha will meet with club brass later this month to discuss their specific assignments - both will probably assume coaching roles within the academy - and they’ll officially start May 1. Orlando City moved swiftly, poaching Powell within 10 days of first contact and wrangling Negalha in a similar time frame.
“It was kind of a whirlwind,” said Powell, who spent nine years as the head coach at Elon. “It was very emotional because I’m very attached to the Elon community. But it was just the right time and the right opportunity. It’s something I’m very passionate about, developing young players and trying to make them the best they can be.”
Negalha and Powell both have experience coaching on the club level, and Negalha’s time in Florida was a bonus from Orlando City’s perspective. The 2011 NSCAA National Assistant Coach of the Year spent three years as the top recruiting coordinator for South Florida, and nine years under Carlos Somoano at North Carolina only boosted his profile.
“I’m passionate about being on the field and helping kids develop in every category,” Negalha said. “To be integrated and working with a professional club - it was still a hard decision, but it made it just a great opportunity for me to be a part of this professional club and Orlando City and what they’re trying to do.”
Negalha’s position as one of the nation’s best assistants at one of the country’s most prestigious men’s soccer programs only made Orlando City’s gain that much more stark.
“The decision wasn’t an easy one,” Negalha said. “I’m leaving not only one of the best men’s soccer programs in this country, but also one of the best educational institutions in this country. I’ve been entrenched. I’ve spent 10 years at UNC. It’s a great place, and I’m leaving something behind that’s very special.”
Orlando City’s earliest maneuvers after it was admitted as one of MLS’s next expansion clubs involved snapping up Turner and Redding, two young youth national team vets with no small amount of promise. That was not lost on either Powell or Negalha. As the club continues to expand its developmental scope, Orlando City’s presence in the academy for the 2014-2015 season is suddenly becoming one of the Development Academy’s most intriguing story lines.
“I think the learning curve will just be getting to know and understand the new people I’m going to be working with,” Powell said. “That will take a couple of meetings and understanding the first-team philosophy, but I’m extremely excited to be part of those discussions and to help shape that future.”