Where Orlando City Need To Strengthen In The Off-Season.
Coming off of the back of Orlando City's best-season, talk of roster improvement might seem somewhat egregious to the more casual observer. The Lions boasted a relatively solid defensive record and were amongst the highest scoring teams in MLS. There can't be much room for improvement, right? Wrong. In this sport, teams that stand still end up stagnating. Trust me, I'm a Nottingham Forest fan. I know. Oscar Pareja will be well aware of the changes he needs to make, and with 6 current roster spots remaining; expect further movement in the market.
Without further delay, let's jump right on in...
Competition and cover at left-back
Joao Moutinho is such an important player to this team, as such his absence was keenly felt down the stretch. As it no doubt will when the 2021 season gets underway. Moutinho has suffered a serious injury setback, and could be out until next summer. Orlando City's pre-eminent need to strengthen at left-back has only intensified. Our depth at left-back, or lack thereof, is problematic. Kamal Miller was less than impressive as stand-in, and the young Canadian has since left the club. Kyle Smith performed admirably in the left-back role, to his credit. However, the Accountant is predominantly right-sided and as such is not a long-term solution in the role. Besides, we have a need for him on the other side.
Competition, not cover, is needed at left-back. The two terms are ever so slightly nuanced. It's important to have cover in every position, but that cover has to be competition. No starting spot is guaranteed in this team, and this will continue to be the case in 2021. Particularly as travel becomes more of an issue. Orlando City need someone to come in and simultaneously cover for, and compete with, Joao Moutinho. That is, when the Portuguese makes his long awaited return.
Joao Moutinho faces a lengthy stretch on the sidelines.. Well...Even lengthier.
Cover at the 10... Orlando seemed to struggle without Mauricio Pereyra
This has to be a priority for Oscar Pareja during this off-season. The Lions struggled without their playmaker in chief, Mauricio Pereyra. In 14 starts and 2 substitute appearances, the Uruguayan tallied 2 goals and 8 assists; stats which serve only to highlight his importance to this team. Conversely, the Lions only won 2 of the 9 games he didn't feature in. His creativity was badly missed down the stretch, as Orlando ultimately fell short in the race for the Supporters Shield. The former Krasnodar man has the ability to roam and break lines with his keen eye for a pass. In his last 7 appearances, his pass success rate stands at 84.7%. Remarkably high for someone who attempts a lot of forward passes. When he wasn't around to do that, Orlando's chance creation dropped off sharply. Pereyra was absent for 5 consecutive games in October, Orlando only broke double figures for goal attempts in 1 of them.
Finding someone around Pereyra's level will be no easy task, particularly considering Orlando's budget constrictions. The Lions do have an excellent scouting network, however, so I wouldn't bet against them finding someone. The acquisition of a number 10 to both cover for, and compete with, Mauricio Pereyra is arguably the most important need to be addressed.
Mauricio Pereyra's importance to this team cannot be overstated.
Centre back... Competition needed for Carlos, Jansson, Miller and Schlegel
Centre-back is another area of considerable need for the Lions. Currently Antonio Carlos, Robin Jansson and Rodrgio Schlegel are the only established first-team centre-backs. Michael Halliday continues to impress behind the scenes, but has yet to see significant first-team action. During, what promises to be, a long and arduous season further experience in defence is required. If you look at a team like Columbus Crew, who went all the way in the post-season, they have 5 or 6 players who can do a job in the centre of defence. Centre-back depth wasn't an area of much concern until Kamal Miller departed the club recently, but now we the Lions find themselves a little light in that area.
Winger, with Alvarado unproven competition for Nani and Mueller is needed
There are high hopes held for Alexander Alvarado behind the scenes. The fact he wasn't protected during the MLS Expansion Draft, should be taken with a grain of salt. The Ecuadorian didn't have much of a chance to prove himself during 2020, and simply put there were greater assets who needed protecting. Players we know are a vital cog in Orlando City's machine. That's not to say he can't become just that, it's just that Austin were far less likely to pick him than they were someone like Andres Perea for example.
All of this sort of leads me on to my main point. We don't know what Alvarado's value to this team is yet, we don't know how he's going to adapt to competitive MLS action. Aside from Alvarado Orlando only have Chris Mueller and Luis Nani as recognised wingers. Players like Matheus Aiás and Benji Michel can do a job there, but they aren't long-term solutions. We also need competition, not just cover. I know I'm beginning to sound like something of a broken record but it's the truth. Competition pushes players, as such competition for the likes of Mueller and Nani can only be beneficial for the team going forward.
Alexander Alvarado still has a lot to prove.
Utility man... Every team needs one
Every team needs a utility man. On the current Orlando City roster I would say Kyle Smith is the only one who even comes close to being such a player. However, the likeable American can only really play two positions, and as such doesn't really cut the mustard. By the way, can anyone explain to me why that's a saying? Like, how do you even go about cutting mustard? I do love a good idiom. Anyways...
If you look at any of the top teams in Europe, they all have at least one player who can fill 3 or 4 positions and do a job. Liverpool have James Milner, Tottenham have Eric Dier and Paris Saint Germain have Marquinhos. A little closer to home Minnesota United have Hassani Dotson and recently crowned MLS Cup Champions Columbus Crew have players like Chris Cadden. A utility man doesn't have to be a guaranteed starter, they often aren't. That doesn't, in any way, undermine their importance.
In a league where roster spots are limited, utility players are vital. Orlando City could certainly have done with such a player this year, as injuries and suspensions hampered them down the stretch. Whilst a utility man might not be top of Oscar Pareja's Christmas shopping list, it should certainly be on there. You listening Santa? Good.
Hassani Dotson is a vital utility man for Minnesota.
Let us know what you think via the usual channels, which areas of the team do you think need addressing most urgently?
*Statistics courtesy of mlssoccer.com and whoscored.com