One of the bright spots for Orlando City SC through preseason and in their opening game was 21-year-old midfielder Cristian Higuita. While many praised the young Colombian, forgotten was Darwin Cerén, a carryover from the club's 2014 USL team. On Friday night, Cerén made his case for his spot in the starting lineup.
Cerén was signed by Orlando City for the 2014 season from El Salvador club Juventud Independiente. The midfielder left his home country looking to rid himself of the corruption that plagues the sport in the Central American nation. Cerén was a stronghold for the club last season in the defensive midfield position, a vital part of Adrian Heath's 4-2-3-1 formation.
The defensive midfield position is an integral part Orlando City's playing style. The two fullbacks spring up the wing and into the attack, leaving the center back pair vulnerable to a counter attack. The defensive midfielders are counted on to cover defensively for the attacking defenders. Because of this, it's imperative that the defensive midfielders are defensive minded and defensively sound.
Higuita, who was signed from Deportivo Cali in Colombia this off-season, started the season opener against NYCFC, despite a nagging groin strain that had plagued him during preseason. Heath decided to leave the young midfielder off the plane to Houston as a precaution. This decision presented an opportunity to the 25-year-old Cerén.
Cerén has had problems in the past moving forward and that arose again Friday night. Early in the game, a cross-field pass from the El Salvador captain went astray from its target, instead finding the feet of an opposing orange jersey. The misstep could've cost the Lions, however, he was much more dependable in the role that mattered.
Starting alongside stalwart Amobi Okugo, Cerén's priority Friday night was defensive and he didn't disappoint. His defensive capabilities shone as he and Okugo contributed to an Orlando City clean sheet. With Brad Davis, Giles Barnes and Boniek Garcia, the Dynamo can be a very dangerous team on the attack but Cerén handled his responsibilities well.
It is yet to be seen whether Higuita will be available for Saturday's home game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, another offensively dangerous team. If Higuita is not yet ready to return, expect Cerén to be a more than capable replacement.
Unfortunately for Cerén, if he does start against Vancouver, his momentum will be cut short, as he will then depart for international duty. His national side will be facing Argentina and Guatemala which could see him missing two of the following games for Orlando City.
While few questions exist over Cerén's capabilities as a defensive midfielder, he had seemingly lost his position to Higuita to start alongside Okugo. However, he showed Friday night just how strong defensively he can be in a position where the defensive part of the game is essential. Whether Cerén retains the starting spot or not, Orlando City can be assured that they can rely on whoever starts in that position going forward.