Following a record-breaking season by the first team, the Orlando City U-17 squad carved a place for itself in the club history books with an MLS NEXT Cup title on Saturday night in the Dallas area.
The team topped the Players Development Academy — a competitive youth club from New Jersey — in a penalty shootout after a scoreless draw in regulation time.
Goalkeeper Isaac Delgado emerged as a hero for the team throughout the playoffs. The keeper saved one shot in penalties against Shattuck-St. Mary’s in the opening rounds of the tournament. He went on to score two shots in penalty shootout of the final match.
The Lions secured the shutout in the final without starting defender Thomas Williams, who recently signed a first-team contract with the Lions.
“This is a fantastic achievement,” Orlando City U17 coach Javier Carrillo said. “We have created a strong group, a strong bond where players are hungry and look forward to overcoming the next challenge. The standards are set for our Academy and we must focus on delivering the same level of quality and consistency in the years to come.”
The Lions have historically struggled to compete at the youth and academy levels, but that changed this season. Both the U-15 and the U-17 teams finished atop their divisions at the end of the 2021 season, marking important steps as top youth players such as Williams transition into the senior roster.
This growth comes from the top as coach Oscar Pareja and executive vice president of soccer operations Luiz Muzzi look to build a youth pipeline similar to the one they created together with FC Dallas.
Pareja said the success of the U-17 team provided joy and promise for the senior team, which he believes will benefit from this investment in future seasons.
“We prioritize the development of the players but we want to win games too,” Pareja said. “Not just win games, but win trophies. The boys are used to that already. They’re already fighting for the highest spots, the highest prizes in tournaments. We have that priority to develop them as footballers and as human beings, just having the whole thing is a luxury for us. ... To see the connection and the unity that we have with the youngsters is amazing.”