Orlando City picked up a veteran utility player on Feb. 2, when the club used its MLS Allocation ranking to nab midfielder Eric Avila on loan from Santos Laguna for the 2015 season. The San Diego native had more than 100 career MLS appearances on his resume, with the ability to slot in at multiple positions in the midfield and back line. The Lions needed MLS veterans with some versatility to provide depth to the squad, and guys like Avila and Lewis Neal definitely fit the bill.
The diminutive (5-foot-8) Avila had played more than 20 MLS games in each of the previous three seasons with Chivas USA (2013-14) and Toronto FC (2012). Due to injuries, Avila would again appear more than 20 times in a season with Orlando City, slotting in mostly at right wing in the attacking midfield.
Avila will never make anyone forget who Kaká is, but that's not his game. He's a hard worker, who puts a priority on sound positioning and eliminating the counter. With Orlando City, Avila played in a tucked-in right wing role, often trying to spring Rafael Ramos down the right channel, and playing quick passes to the central attacking midfielder. Not the most gifted offensive player, Avila is more prone to setting up teammates and he is known more for his work rate than his scoring prowess.
As a defensive player, Avila didn't quite fare as well, getting beat positionally several times in the 5-3 loss at New York City FC.
Avila made 21 appearances with the Lions in 2015, starting 15 games. He scored one goal and assisted on two others. He registered 17 shots this season, but put only three of them on target. A fair and gentlemanly player, Avila committed only 16 fouls all season and received only one booking -- a yellow card on May 13 at D.C. United.
MF, Eric Avila, 7.5 -- Avila looked comfortable on the right side for the first time and opened his account with a timely run into the box. He doesn't get a ton of credit for his work rate and doing the little things well in the midfield that he probably deserves, but he was very good tonight and scored his first MLS goal since 2013.
Avila worked quite well that day with Brek Shea and Kaká in the attacking midfield, as well as out on the right side with Ramos, who was dangerous all game long as a result of the interplay with his partner down that channel. Here's a look at Avila's sweet goal, which is up for Goal of the Year:
It is hard to imagine Avila having a spot on the 2016 squad unless some things change. While it's nice to have a player with his versatility and team-first attitude, the Lions have made no secret of the fact they want to get deeper and better at every position. Where does that leave players like Avila, who had trouble getting off the bench down the stretch when guys started getting healthy? Well, it typically leaves them on the outside, looking in.
Guys like Avila are the types of players you want to have on your team in case of emergency, but you hope you don't have to use them much. Orlando City had to break glass in case of emergency throughout 2015 because of the landslide of injuries, suspensions and call-ups, so Adrian Heath was forced to use his utility infielder in place of his star shortstop and second baseman way more often than he'd have liked. I believe Avila will find a home elsewhere in 2016, which is a shame from a personal standpoint, because he's one of the more outgoing players on the team and we'll miss the Brek and Avi Show.
Final 2015 Rating
The Mane Land staff composite season grade for Avila is 5.5 out of 10. This grade is a bit deceiving, because Avila was no doubt judged for what he isn't, at least as much as for what he is. Attacking midfielders that don't score or create a lot of dangerous chances for their teammates will always fare poorly in these kind of rankings. That's not to say Eric isn't a valuable and skilled player. It's just that he was forced into roles that didn't best suit his attributes. However, few players worked harder and put the team first as much as No. 12 in purple.