Orlando City selected forward Pedro Ribeiro with its fourth selection in the 2014 MLS Expansion Draft from the Philadelphia Union back in December. The Lions liked his size and, at just 25 years old, the native of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, still had lots of upside. On City's Media Day at its Lake Sylvan training facility, Ribeiro stood out with his skill and power.
Perhaps no one but Ribeiro himself expected him to see so much time on the pitch, when Orlando City's roster rounded out. No. 1 SuperDraft pick Cyle Larin, veteran Martin Paterson, Young Designated Player Bryan Róchez and perhaps fellow YDP Carlos Rivas seemed to be in front of Ribeiro in the pecking order, and it seemed he would battle striker Danny Mwanga for perhaps the club's fourth or fifth option up top in Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation.
Back in June, Ribeiro told mlssoccer.com's Simon Veness that he never expected to see the field so much in 2015.
"No, I didn't really expect to be here as the starting main striker," he admitted. "I came in to be pretty much a substitute who could fill in in various spots. That was the reality. Midfield was also supposed to be my main role as well, but it is hard to think you will get a lot of playing time when you have a guy called Kaká around."
Ribeiro played mainly up top in 2015, but he did see some spot duty in the midfield when injuries, international call-ups and suspensions stretched Heath's squad thin. He didn't play in the opener, but subbed on at Houston in Game 2 and made the crucial play on Tyler Deric's own-goal that would provide Orlando City's first MLS victory.
In all, Ribeiro saw action in 18 of Orlando City's 34 MLS games. He started eight of those, playing 732 minutes and scoring two goals on 19 shots with 10 of those on goal, and adding two assists. He committed 11 fouls and was offside 10 times, but received no bookings all season. In addition to forcing Deric's own-goal, Ribeiro also pressured Chicago Fire's Adailton into an own-goal. He scored goals of his own in a pair of 2-2 draws -- at Montreal March 28 and a screamer to rescue a point against Columbus on May 30.
Ribeiro missed much of the time between those two games due to a hamstring injury he sustained on April 3 against D.C. United. It was a shame, because the 6-foot-4 Brazilian was in fine form, with a goal and an assist and his intimidation of Deric all coming in a three-game span leading up to that match against D.C., derailing what could have been a breakout season.
That March 28 game at Montreal was the brightest spot of the season for Ribeiro, who scored a goal off a Kaká assist and returned the favor with a helper of his own for the captain. Those plays happened in a two-minute span. Skip ahead to the 2:20 mark to check it out.
Ribeiro finished the game with three shots and his sizable presence drew a pair of fouls. He was a vital part of turning a 2-0 deficit into a 2-2 road draw, in a game in which Orlando City was missing several starters due to international duty and injuries.
It might prove difficult for Ribeiro to stay with Orlando City in 2016. Management is on record as saying the Lions are keen to improve forward depth. What might help Ribeiro is his versatility, in being able to play midfield positions. He also has a very good understanding of how to play with Kaká, which could help. He's also inexpensive, making just $60,000 in 2015. Ribeiro is far more likely to maintain his roster spot than Mwanga, but he could be a cusp player who is loaned to Orlando City B (or elsewhere) for more games than he plays with the MLS side if he does remain with Orlando in 2016.
Ribeiro has shown he can play in MLS. If he had been blessed with more speed, he could even become a dominant player in the league. As it stands, he appears to be a depth player, but the league certainly needs those too.
Final 2015 Rating
The Mane Land staff composite season grade for Ribeiro is 6 out of 10. The big Brazilian often made the most of his opportunities, such as providing the most dangerous scoring chance in the regular season finale against Philadelphia. However, he also had a tendency to disappear sometimes during matches. That may have been more about the service he received than his play. He was a fine utility player for the Lions in 2015, but he was most certainly not Plan A. Good on Pedro for (mostly) performing when called upon.