There are only two remaining players from Orlando City’s inaugural MLS roster — midfielder Cristian Higuita and goalkeeper Earl Edwards, Jr. Edwards entered his fourth MLS season in 2018 with only one career league start under his belt — one he’d like to forget — in a 6-1 season-ending drubbing at the Philadelphia Union in October of 2017.
The six goals were mostly scored on plays Edwards could do little or nothing about, but that match had to leave a bad taste in the young goalkeeper’s mouth, being the only league action he’d seen for the senior team after starring for OCB. The 2015 No. 43 SuperDraft pick out of UCLA finally got a string of MLS matches in 2018 and played at least as well as incumbent starter Joe Bendik for most of his minutes, but he did make a big mistake in his final league start and never saw the field again.
Let’s take a look at his season.
Edwards made five MLS appearances and three U.S. Open Cup matches (all starts) in 2018, setting career highs in appearances, starts, and minutes (392). He picked up his first MLS win on July 14 in a 2-1 home victory over Toronto FC in James O’Connor’s home debut as head coach of Orlando City, helping the club snap a nine-game losing streak with his three saves, including a 1-v-1 stop on Sebastian Giovinco. In league games, Edwards posted a 2.00 goals-against average and a save percentage of 57.7.
Earl finished the season with 15 saves in league play and 14 more in the U.S. Open Cup run to the quarterfinals. He allowed 10 goals in MLS and just two in USOC. His record as a starting goalkeeper was 1-3-1 in MLS and 1-1-1 in USOC, though he helped the Lions advance in the cup competition on penalties against D.C. United. Edwards played in only two home matches in 2018, going 1-0-1 in those two contests. He recorded just one clean sheet on the season in Orlando’s 3-0 U.S. Open Cup win at Miami United FC.
While it would be nice to say Edwards’ best game was a victory, he only needed to make three saves against Toronto and one in his shutout win over Miami United. Of his other appearances, he left the Columbus game early with an injury without making a save (or allowing a goal), made three stops in a 2-0 loss at New York City FC, and allowed four goals in a six-save effort against the LA Zlatans in a 4-3 road loss. He made three saves in a 3-3 home draw against New England but he also made his biggest mistake of the season on the opening goal in that match.
That leaves a pair of U.S. Open Cup games to choose from and he was good in both of them. Edwards made five saves in the 1-1 draw against D.C. United that went to penalties, but his stop on Yamil Asad in spot kicks set the tone for Orlando to advance. Still, I’m going to select the 1-0 road loss to the Philadelphia Union on July 18 as his best match.
Edwards made eight saves in the game, including an outstanding early reaction save on Fafa Picault’s free header just minutes in. Unfortunately, that save led to the game’s only goal, as the rebound fell at the feet of Alejandro Bedoya for a finish that Edwards could do nothing about. In the 16th minute, Edwards went low to rob Borek Dockal of a second Union goal.
Earl was forced to make a couple good saves on Cory Burke in the 34th and 52nd minutes to keep his team in the match. He also made some fine stops in the 88th and 90th on C.J. Sapong and Bedoya, respectively, to give the Lions a chance to find a goal that ultimately never came. Edwards faced 19 shots (nine on target) and turned all away that he could in a valiant effort.
2018 Final Grade
The Mane Land staff gave Edwards a composite rating of 5 for the 2018 season. While he showed that he can stop shots at the MLS level, there are still some areas in which he can improve. His distribution is fine but could be better. He still can sometimes be a little indecisive on whether to stay at home or come out to collect or punch crosses away. One of Edwards’ best attributes has been his ability in penalty shootouts, where he has shown repeatedly that he can come up with some heroics under pressure. This year was no different with his stop on Asad. But the odd early goal against the New England Revolution either spoke to communication, vision, or focus, and it may have cost him as we didn’t see him again after that match on Aug. 4.
Edwards’ deal expires at the end of the 2018 calendar year per Transfermarkt, and it will be interesting to see if Orlando keeps the 26-year-old from San Diego after the emergence of Adam Grinwis over the final weeks of the season. Edwards makes only $68,250 on his current deal, which is just a fraction more than Grinwis, who displayed the ability to stop shots and was also the best of Orlando’s three keepers at playing out of the back quickly with his teammates. Bendik is the only one of the three with a contract beyond this season, but he is also coming off his worst season since joining Orlando. With his issues in playing the ball quickly and accurately with his feet, it would seem plausible the Lions will try to move Bendik and his $189k contract, which has one year left on it, but the club may not find any takers without eating part of his salary. Whether the team can move Bendik for a better No. 1 or not, with Grinwis’ emergence it seems likely that Edwards will depart, possibly leaving Higuita as the lone surviving original MLS Lion.