Orlando City has surprised many this season with their strong play at the back and through the midfield but there has been one glaring weakness which continues to hamper the Lions. In their first five MLS games, only one goal has come from the forward position. And the absence of Martin Paterson is a major reason for that lack of success.
On Jan. 26, Orlando City announced the addition of Northern Ireland international striker Martin Paterson from Huddersfield Town. The 27-year-old England native was brought in on loan with an option to buy, as an attempt to add experience to a strike force that lacked that attribute.
Currently, Orlando City's options up top consist of a 19-year-old rookie, a 20-year-old, and a 24-year-old who spent most of last season on the back line (and who may be missing some time through injury). Lions' number one pick Cyle Larin and young DP Bryan Rochéz look like future stars, but are still young and rough around the edges. Meanwhile, Pedro Ribeiro, who has seen some success this season, spent most of last year on loan with the Harrisburg City Islanders of USL, where he primarily played center back.
In the team's first two games this season, the starting striker wasn't a striker at all. Colombian 20-year-old Carlos Rivas, a speedy winger, was brought in to play left midfield opposite Kevin Molino. However, with injuries causing havoc early on, Heath was forced to adjust and chose to try the young speedster out of position.
The purpose of the Paterson loan was to start an experienced international while giving the young and inexperienced backups time to mature as professionals. It seemed like a sound plan, as Larin and Rochéz would likely be prepared to take the reins for next season.
However, those plans were derailed when Paterson went down with a hamstring injury during preseason, causing him to miss the team's first five games. While he's close to returning, his absence has been apparent.
In four of Orlando City's first five games, the team has had more shots and more possession than its opponent. But, in only one of those games has the team had more shots on goal than the opponent.
These statistics show that Orlando City is having success playing the ball through the midfield and creating opportunities on goal. They've been able to keep possession and control most of their games this season. The only setback has been the lack of finishing in the final third.
Many will point to conceding late goals against the Vancouver Whitecaps and D.C. United as a major cause for concern. While these are issues that must be addressed, neither game would've been within reach of the opponent had Orlando City been able to convert on previous chances throughout the game.
Now, certainly there's no guarantee that Paterson would be any more successful than his replacements have been had he been healthy all season. But the fact that Paterson has had far more experience playing in meaningful competition at the position than all of his backups combined means that he would at least be more comfortable than what the team has displayed thus far.
Orlando City's lack of finishing has been a serious problem early this season. The team's dominant play so far has yet to be rewarded. A lot of pressure has been placed on two young strikers and one not used to playing the position at the professional level. With the experienced Paterson returning to the lineup soon, that could change for the better.