Orlando City hires former Benfica exec Armando Carneiro as chief soccer officer – Orlando Sentinel

Orlando City has made a surprising hire at the top of its front office after just one season in MLS.

The club announced Tuesday it hired a former Portuguese soccer club executive as its Chief Soccer Officer to oversee all of soccer operations. Armando Carneiro had extensive success at SL Benfica as general director, where he oversaw everything from the Benfica B team to the club’s academy and its scouting network.

“Looking at where we’re going and looking at where we want to get to, we’ve always said that we have a goal to be not only one of the largest, but one of the best soccer clubs in the world,” Orlando City president Phil Rawlins said. “Not just Central Florida or Florida, but we’re looking at a global stage. To do that we need someone with that kind of level of expertise and knowledge to come in to be able to help manage that and help run it. We’re fortunate to get someone with his background and his experience.”

Carneiro guided the Benfica academies to multiple national and international tournament titles and helped the Portuguese club re-establish itself not just as the top power in its league, but also as one of the best developmental clubs in Europe.

Carneiro will now serve as essentially Orlando City’s sporting director. Current Orlando City general manager Paul McDonough will now report to Carneiro. Carneiro will oversee all staff for Orlando City’s three professional clubs — Orlando City, Orlando City B and Orlando Pride — as well as the youth academy.

The move comes somewhat as a surprise because Orlando City built a roster with a long-term vision and finished just short of the playoffs in its first season.  The dynamics of the front office could now shift going into year two.

Orlando City is currently structured with an owner and president, Flávio Augusto da Silva and Rawlins; a chief executive officer, Alex Leitão; a chief soccer officer, Carneiro, and general manager, McDonough; and head coach Adrian Heath.

Rawlins said he was not concerned about too many cooks in the kitchen.

“We are building a self-sustaining club so that if one card leaves, the whole stack doesn’t fall,” Rawlins said. “Our model is to build our organization where the club is of paramount importance. If an individual leaves, it doesn’t implode and we can continue to build and grow.”

Despite Carneiro’s international success, the hiring carries inherent risk.

Carneiro has no experience in MLS, a league that brings many complicated challenges that are totally unique in the world of soccer. The league’s history is littered with foreign coaches and general managers who have failed in MLS, including former New York Red Bulls general managers Erik Solér and Jérôme de Bontin.

Orlando City is not the only club to take this route, however. The Philadelphia Union recently hired former U.S. national team midfielder Earnie Stewart as its sporting director. Stewart played in MLS, but returns in a front office role after working as the director of football at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar. 

Rawlins said Carneiro’s learning curve will be aided by the presence of McDonough, who will remain active in soccer operations.

“There’s going to be a settling in period for him because he’s coming to a new culture, a new league,” Rawlins said. “There’s a lot to learn about that and the nuances of the league. I think he’ll rely heavily on Paul for those things, because the MLS is a big part of how we do our business.”

Orlando City’s success going forward now will rely on whether the many people at the top of the organization – all with strong individual backgrounds and influences – can work together and sustain one vision.

Email at ptenorio@tribune.comFor more soccer news, visit OrlandoSentinel.com/OnThePitch or follow on Twitter @oslions

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