Q&A with new Orlando City VP of soccer Paul McDonough: MLS entry, team philosophy and nurturing young talent

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Last week Orlando City appointed Paul McDonough as their new Vice President of Soccer Operations ahead of their entry into Major League Soccer in 2015.

The former assistant coach at Wake Forest, UConn and the College of Charleston has had a glittering career in the college game at some of the nations top programs, but now it’s time to take the reins at one of MLS’ new expansion franchises.

Recently McDonough has been in the agency game in his role as Director of Global Soccer at Wasserman Media Group, that has seen him represent MLS stars such as Darlington Nagbe, Teal Bunbury and Darren Mattocks amongst many others.

McDonough has close links with MLS and is now in charge of recruiting players for Orlando ahead of the 2015 season, as well as helping head coach Adrian Heath and Club President Phil Rawlins make MLS’ 21st team into a side that can compete for Championships straight-away.

I got the chance to speak exclusively with McDonough about a plethora of topics earlier this week, and this is what he had to say.

What attracted you to Orlando?

The opportunity and the challenge to get in with a blank canvas and do something special. The environment and the atmosphere the last few years around here has been great. I think it’s only going to get better, moving forward.

On the short and long-term goals for Orlando City SC? Have you had a chance to plan all that already?

Not completely. In the short-term it’s just getting acclimated to the team and MLS, there are a  lot of different facets. A lot of scouting that needs to take place for us to get ready. My main focus will be getting ready for that part of it, while Adrian Heath [head coach] will focus on the present team. Long-term goals is to be very competitive in MLS.

How about your day-to-day job? What are you key focus’ with Orlando City?

Key focus for me is to get a structure of the layout of the club. Scouting, short-term and long-term scouting needs to get put into place. So I can really focus on that. As time goes on I will look at the academy and see how we can improve because Homegrowns are going to be a big part of our club and how we move forward.

A growing fanbase excites McDonough as a huge challenge lies ahead.

Due to your influential career in the college game and at the youth level, will Orlando be looking to bring in a lot of domestic talent from the U.S. and Canada?

I think we will look for talent anywhere that will make the club successful. The Homegrowns, it’s a great atmosphere around here and we need to be successful with Homegrown players, so we want kids to stay at home and play for us.

So there will be a mixture of potential big signings, and building from within?

Yeah, I think when you’re building a team now will look from within MLS with the expansion draft and the SuperDraft will be important for us. Homegrowns, whether they are short-term or down the road, and international signings are always going to part of this league.

How have you found working with Adrian Heath [head coach] and Phil Rawlins [President] at Orlando?

I have complete faith and trust in them, and that’s why I took the challenge on. They have done so well on the playing field and I think what they’ve done off the field is amazing. It’s only going to get better. I feel very comfortable with that.

What will be the difference from making that jump up from the college game to the pros? Is there something new that you will bring to the table? What big challenges do you envisage?

I have traveled all over the world looking for players and I’ve spent the last four years in the agency world. I’m familiar with the professional players and their mentalities. I think the challenge is just going to be waiting out and finding the best players that fit the style and system of Orlando.

Do you know what system and style that is going to be? Is this something you’ve already discussed at length with Adrian?

He wants to play an attacking brand of soccer. 4-2-3-1 is the ideal formation. But we want to play an attacking and entertaining type soccer. We’ve discussed it in-depth, so now it’s all about finding the players who can help him on the field and to where he wants to go.

McDonough has worked with and represented some of the best young domestic talents.

Following your time in the agency world, can you give us some examples of the success stories you had?

I just did a deal for Juan Agudelo to Stoke, then he went on loan to Utrecht. Did the Brek Shea deal to Stoke, I represented Darlington Nagbe and Teal Bunbury throughout their whole career. I think Darlington is one of the future stars of our leagues. I’ve had Darren Mattocks for his whole career. I’ve had Zach Lloyd his whole career from UNC. And also a relatively unknown goalkeeper who plays for the New York Red Bulls, Ryan Meara. I think he is going to continue to do really well.

What is your opinion of the Designated Player rule? Is it something that helps or hinders most MLS squads with the big discrepancy between the DPs and the younger guys?

I think every club has their own philosophy. I’m still learning about the philosophy of what the ownership group here want to approach it. Look, I think the DP rule has done well for the league but there’s always a discrepancy in a salary cap league when you have DPs. But overall, it’s good for the league.

What changes would you’d like to see with the salary cap, maybe increase the minimum wage to stop younger players hopping over to Europe when they get out of college?

The league pays most guys well. As opposed to going to Scandinavia or something like that, I think that’s why players stay. I think the collective bargaining agreement will be interesting this year, but I will leave that to the league and the MLS Players Union to sort out.

After seeing the SuperDraft just take place and the advent of Homegrown players and MLS academies, will the college game still be a big part of the league and Orlando’s future?

In the short-term it will be. I don’t know where it goes down the road. It’s just another mechanism to get good players, so I think right now it will always be something that’s around. For us, we have to look at all mechanisms to make our team better.

So getting players from the college game will be key for Orlando now and in the future?

It is just another mechanism to help out team be successful.

Source: Orlando City SC

The potential rivalry with Miami and/or Atlanta franchise in MLS, is that something that excites you? Something similar to the Pacific Northwest happening in the Southeast?

It would be great. The Cascadia Cup is great for that region, and I hope that Miami and Atlanta come in and we can have good rivals and people that we can beat all the time.

How important is it that the team not only build for MLS, but has another successful season in USL PRO before making the jump?

It is really important because we’ve done so well in the last couple of years. Building a culture of winning is very important, to keep building on the foundations. Why not win another championship? It will keep the culture going and get more fans involved and get ready for MLS.

Are there any MLS expansion clubs you want to emulate? Is there a team you look at and say, ‘they’ve done it right’?

You have to take the good and bad from what clubs have done in the past. Some clubs have done very well with very different strategies. Not  expansion clubs, but the likes of Psorting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake have done very in how they’ve managed their team. The environment in Portland is fantastic and they’re doing a good job at what they’re doing now. Those clubs have done really well.

Your job is to recruit the players, but how exciting is it to be involved in this project where you can see the fanbase growing in Orlando and build a club off a clean slate?

It’s great and very exciting. When the opportunity came up, you really didn’t have to think too hard about getting involved with something special. It’s exciting.

Finally, can you paint a picture of what you’d like Orlando to be like in five years time?

Selling out every game. Winning championships. And it would be nice to compete on the international scene.

LIVE, FA Cup: Wigan v. Southampton in quarterfinal

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The Mark Hughes era begins at Southampton with upset alerts ringing loudly in the background.

[ LIVE: Wigan v. Saints ]

Premier League side Saints travel to third-tier Wigan on Sunday (9:30 a.m. ET) in the FA Cup quarterfinal knowing that the hosts have already knocked out Bournemouth, West Ham and Manchester City during their incredible run to the last eight.

Paul Cook’s men will fancy their chances of upsetting a fourth Premier League team in a row to reach the FA Cup semis at Wembley next month, as Southampton sit in the bottom three of the PL table and sacked Mauricio Pellegrino as their manager earlier this week after just five wins in 30 league games.

With Tottenham and Manchester United booking their spot in the last four on Saturday, Wigan remain the lowest ranked team left in the competition.

In team news Hughes starts with Manolo Gabbiadini and Guido Carrillo up top in a 4-4-2 formation.

Wigan bring in Gary Roberts for Nick Powell.


Wigan Athletic


Salah “on his way” to Messi’s level

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Mohamed Salah scored four goals on Saturday and grabbed an assist as Liverpool beat Watford 5-0 in the Premier League.

It was special. But it was almost as if we’d come to expect this. He is one of those players you pay the entrance fee alone to watch and most PL defenders spend the 90 minutes watching him run by them.

Following the stunning display from the Egyptian winger, Jurgen Klopp was asked about the current level Salah is at as he now leads the PL scoring charts with 28 goals and is the highest scoring Liverpool player ever in a debut season at Anfield with 36 in all competitions.

“I don’t think Mo wants to be compared with Lionel Messi,” Klopp said. “Messi has been doing what he’s been doing for what feels like 20 years or so. The last player I know who had the same influence on a team performance was Diego Maradona. But Mo is in a fantastic way, that’s for sure. As it always is in life, if you have to have the skills you have to show that constantly and consistently, and he is very good.”

Salah’s rise to prominence has been hugely unexpected with the $50 million Liverpool paid to Roma for his services last summer raising plenty of eyebrows.

That transfer fee now seems like a bargain.

The 25-year-old who struggled to break through at Chelsea after arriving from Basel as a youngster is now, like Messi, a genuine global superstar. Everyone knew he was quick and nimble around the box as a winger but nobody expected these gaudy numbers and this kind of output in his debut season at Liverpool.

With Liverpool facing Manchester City in the UEFA Champions League last eight, plenty of City’s defenders will already be having sleepless nights as to how to stop Salah.

Sitting in third place in the table with seven games to go and in the latter stages of the UCL, Liverpool have a hugely talented squad with the likes of Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino consistently delivering goals and assists and Klopp’s project is kicking on.

But like Messi at Barcelona, one man helps Liverpool climb above the rest: Salah.

On this form Kevin De Bruyne will have a serious run for his money when it comes to the player of the year awards in England this season.

Salah is still some way off Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of consistent excellence as his subdued display at Manchester United showed last weekend. However, he is getting towards that level and the Egyptian wizard is in the perfect team for his talents to flourish.

Three MLS Things: Growing pains in ORL; hat-trick hero

Photo credit: Atlanta United / @ATLUTD
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The third Saturday of the 2018 MLS season is in the books, and we learned a few (more) things along the way.

[ MORE: Other MLS Things — The Archive ]

One game is just one game; two games is too small of a sample size; but three games is the beginning of a trend…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Lots of changes, lots of kinks to work out

Inside the last nine months alone, Orlando City SC acquired the following who’s-who list of MLS star-level players: Dom Dwyer, Yoshi Yotun, Sacha Kljestan, Justin Meram and Uri Rosell. That’s one half of an uber-talented, but brand new, starting lineup (at a massive cost) — which is to say, Jason Kreis and Co., have made serious changes, and everything isn’t going to coalesce overnight.

Throw in the fact that Kljestan was suspended the first two games, Dwyer has battled multiple muscular injuries since January and is yet to make his 2018 debut, and Rosell didn’t arrive in Orlando until the week before the season opener and hasn’t played either, and you begin to understand how “such a talented team can have just one point from their first three games.”

Saturday’s 2-0 loss away to a David Villa-less New York City FC was frustrating in more ways than just “we’re still figuring things out, but we’re getting there.” Both of NYCFC’s goals resulted from self-inflicted, avoidable mistakes in possession which turned into easy counter-attacking chances going the other way.

Rosell will undoubtedly fix many of Orlando’s problems with regard to ball circulation and defensive organization/transitions, but only upon his arrival into the lineup can his tricky and important integration begin.

NYCFC, on the other hand, have three wins from three games, have conceded just once (while scoring six) and now hold a nine-point lead on the defending champions from Toronto. Oh, and did I mention they looked just fine without David Villa?

Martinez closing in on history

Just 23 games into his MLS career, Atlanta United forward Josef Martinez is one hat trick from tying the all-time record for hat tricks in a career (6 – currently held by Landon Donovan, Stern John and Diego Serna). To put that into perspective, the three aforementioned players made 340, 55 and 124 appearances during their respective MLS careers.

Assuming he doesn’t pick up another long-term injury (he missed 10 games between March and June last year) and/or transfer back to Europe in the summer, Martinez should summit the hat trick-scoring chart by early June. Given the veracity and vigor with which Atlanta engulf their opponents, Martinez scoring at least two more hat tricks this season feels like the safest bet one could make in a league full of constant flux.

Take, for example, Saturday’s 4-1 thrashing of the Vancouver Whitecaps, which not only saw the Five Stripes fire 21 shots (4 on target – 100 percent, obviously), but more importantly hold more than 72 percent of possession and limit the visitors to just five shots in total (Kendall Waston was sent off in the 13th minute, leaving the ‘Caps a man short for much of the evening). Jeff Larentowicz has solved most of the problems in midfield and allowed Darlington Nagbe to settle in quickly and thrive. If that trend is to continue, the sky is truly the limit for Tata Martino’s boys, and Martinez will bag goals by the handful.

Where’s the real Sporting KC defense?

Should we be a little worried about the Sporting Kansas City defense, a group which finished 2017 as the league’s stingiest unit and returns its entire back-six in 2018? After conceding just 29 goals in 34 games last season, the group led by past Defender of the Year award winners Ike Opara and Matt Besler has conceded seven goals in their first three games this year.

If it were any other team, and any other group of MLS veterans, with any other coach, I’d be officially worried right now. But, given their (perennial) stake to one of the league’s best defensive records, I remain in a holding pattern, even after giving up another soft/sloppy goal in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes.

Sporting head coach Peter Vermes made a fair and valid point following the game, reminding the assembled media that playing more freely going forward — a massive weakness for Sports in recent seasons — comes at the expense of defensive positioning and numbers. Sure enough, they’ve scored seven goals in three games (tied for the most in MLS – all coming in the last two). Sporting scored their seventh goal of the 2017 season on April 29.

Here’s the thing about Sporting’s recent seasons: they’ve been a lock-down side throughout the regular season and never figured out how to consistently score goals, and it cost them plenty of points along the way and ultimately they played on the road in the knockout round each of the last four seasons. That style, which they’ll surely settle back into come playoff time, doesn’t lend itself to playing on the road. Securing a home playoff game, which would the first for the team since winning MLS Cup 2013 at home, is priority no. 1, and Vermes might just be willing to sacrifice a little bit of defense for a whole lot more offense (finally).

MLS: NYCFC with 3 wins in 3; defending champs TFC point-less

Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP
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NEW YORK (AP) Ismael Tajouri and Maximiliano Moralez scored 12-minutes apart in the second half and New York City FC opened the season with three straight wins for the first time in the club’s short history with a 2-0 victory over Orlando City on Saturday.

Orlando goalkeeper Joe Bendik misplayed a back-pass that went right to Tajouri inside the 18-yard box and Tajouri took a few touches to the penalty spot for an easy finish in the 62nd minute. After an Orlando giveaway to Saad Abdul-Salaam, Jesus Medina settled it for an oncoming Moralez to slide it home.

NYCFC (3-0-0) was without start David Villa due to a minor injury.

Orlando City (0-2-1), led by NYC’s former coach Jason Kreis (2014-15), has its share of injury problems as well. Striker Stefano Pinho had a right ankle injury last Saturday, leaving on crutches, and playmaker Dom Dwyer will be out for at least two more weeks.

Sacha Kljestan made his debut for Orlando after serving a two-game ban. The club arrived late due to the St. Patrick’s Day parade traffic.

MONTREAL (AP) Jeisson Vargas scored four minutes before the intermission to lift Montreal to a 1-0 victory over Toronto FC in the Impact’s home opener Saturday.

It was the first MLS goal for 20-year-old Vargas and the first win for new coach Remi Garde, who replaced Mauro Biello in December as coach of the Impact (1-2).

Toronto (0-2) played its first game since a rousing victory in the CONCACAF Champions League over Mexican side Tigres. The travel to Mexico may have sapped some energy from the defending MLS champions, who nonetheless started most of their top players.

Garde seemed to catch everyone off guard by starting a three-man backline with former Marseille defender Rod Fanni making his debut in the middle.

It made for a mostly uneventful first half until Saphir Taider intercepted a ball and sent Ignacio Piatti up the middle. Three Toronto defenders focused on the Impact captain, leaving Vargas open on the right side to take the pass and slice a shot inside the goalpost in the 41st minute for their first lead in three games.

Piatti was inside the Toronto penalty area on two more occasions before the break but Nick Hagglund blocked one dangerous shot and another was also turned away.

Eight minutes into the second half, Piatti sent Taider in alone but Alexander Bono pushed the shot.

Toronto threatened in the 64th when Sebastian Giovinco got the ball to striker Jozy Altidore. He lifted a shot over goalie Evan Bush but saw it bounce just wide. Toronto looked to have tied it in the 84th minute when Altidore’s shot got behind Bush and was rolling slowly to the goal line, but Michael Petrasso swept it away at the last second.

Montreal striker Matteo Mancosu, who missed practice this week for what the team called precautionary reasons, didn’t dress.

Midfielder Victor Vazquez, who has had back trouble, didn’t dress for Toronto. Chris Mavinga (suspected sports hernia) was in the lineup but did not start.