There are three reasons veteran forward Julio Baptista should stay in Orlando: he is excellent as a super sub, has great chemistry with teammates, and serves a leadership role on the team. A little background on Baptista, he played for huge clubs like Roma, Arsenal, and Real Madrid. He came up under the same academy as Lion favorite, Kaká, at Sao Paulo. He is an accomplished international player with 47 caps, two Copa America titles, and both Confederations Cup and World Cup experience under his belt.
If we call this season what it is, we’d call it a failure. With Adrian Heath fired and a new coach in Jason Kreis, making the playoffs was the goal. Now, getting there shouldn’t have been hard — more teams make the playoffs than miss them — but Orlando missed out on a playoff berth for the second straight year. But being eliminated has made the players work harder to maintain roster spots and Baptista has shined, doing the most with his limited minutes.
Baptista has made the most difference as an Orlando player as a substitute. The numbers show that in his 18 appearances as a sub he has notched five goals and two assists (compared to one goal and one assist in five starts). Not bad. In yesterday’s finale, he scored in the 89th minute as, you guessed it, a substitute. Here's that goal:
His characteristics are a good fit to be a super sub as well. He’s a player who plays with strength and lives up to his his nickname, “The Beast.” But, he’s also an above average header and can take free kicks. His power on shots is a difference maker. As a former goalkeeper, I know power is an underrated part of a shot on goal, and Baptista can really hammer home a shot.
His passing is also underrated, although the stat sheet may not reflect it. He has three assists this season, but has played the ball to the assist givers more times than that and has taken part in most goals when he is on the field. He can be a change of pace player for the squad when the Lions need a spark, to come in and take some shots at goal or provide assists, and assists to the assists.
Baptista’s great relationship and friendship with Kaká is no secret, as the two have grown up together and trained alongside each other. If I'm Orlando City management, I'm doing everything I can to keep my star player happy. Kaká wants to play with friends and when it makes sense like it does with Baptista, they need to bring him back for next season.
With the other players, I do think playing with such an experienced and well-traveled player can help team chemistry. He knows he’s going to be a super sub with the occasional start, so he’ll be taking on a leadership role behind the scenes. This takes us to our final reason why he should stay on the team.
Jason Kreis has been clamoring for some leadership and it’s time Kaká shared the load with Baptista, and hopefully another signing (preferably a CDM). Baptista can mentor the players, as it is a pretty young squad overall. The veterans will need to lead the way next season in order to take this team to the playoffs for the first time. He can lead by example and motivate the youth to #trusttheprocess Kreis is taking them through. Kreis is going to depend on his veterans to carry the message of his style of play on the field and in practice.
Julio Baptista needs to stick around if Orlando wants to jump from a playoff pretender to a contender.