On July 21, 2016, Orlando City acquired Uruguayan defender Jose Aja via the Discovery process on a six-month loan with an option to buy. Aja had been on loan at the Uruguayan side Racing Club de Montevideo for six months from Club Nacional de Football before coming to Orlando. Orlando City was looking for help along the back line, and the young defender had the physical skills and international experience the team needed.
It took four weeks before Aja saw the field; adjusting to a new city, new team, and like the rest of the Lions at that time, a new coach in Jason Kreis. His first minutes played in purple were against Chicago on Aug. 14, when he was subbed in for Tommy Redding in the 56th minute of play. He started the next game, sat one game, and then started all but two of Orlando City’s 11 remaining games. It’s not hard to see how a 6-foot-4, skilled defender could help the weakest part of Orlando City’s squad.
Aja played 10 games for the Lions, starting nine of those. He registered nine shots in those 10 games, putting only one on goal. However, scoring goals wasn’t the reason Orlando City brought Aja to town. In the 10 games that Aja played for Orlando City, there were 12 goals against when he was on the field. In the 24 games that he wasn’t in, there were 48 goals against. That means that Orlando allowed two goals per game without Aja, and only 1.2 goals per game when he was on the field. That’s not to say that Aja was the only difference, but he was certainly a part of it.
Aja also committed 16 fouls, suffered 10 fouls, and garnered four yellow card bookings. Additionally, Orlando City’s record when Aja played was 4-3-2, and without him the Lions were 5-8-12. Again, not that he was the only reason, but the team did have a better record with him than not.
D, Jose Aja, 7 – In only his second MLS start, the Uruguayan put in a solid shift against an outstanding offensive team. He led the back line with 93.3% passing, four interceptions, and six clearances. He also won two aerials, had one tackle, and blocked a shot. Nine of his 11 long balls were accurate. Most importantly, he and Mateos did a good job of not only cutting off the first New York attacker – usually David Villa, Tommy McNamara, and Steven Mendoza, but the duo also seemed aware of guys like Frank Lampard, making secondary runs into the area.
That wouldn’t be the only time that Aja and David Mateos would work well together to secure the back line. Unfortunately, that pairing ended when Mateos went out for the season with an MCL tear with a couple of matches to play.
How Jose Aja does for Orlando City in 2017 will depend on whether the team decides to extend his stay by picking up his option. Given what he has done in just 10 appearances, Orlando City should figure out a way to keep him along the back line. Jose is good in the air, seems to have a good sense of space most of the time, and is generally accurate in his passing. He can continue to develop at Orlando City, and with some other help, will be an integral part of an improved defense going into next year.
Final 2016 Rating
The Mane Land staff composite season grade for Aja is 6.25 out of 10. With only 10 games played, the sample size is small, but he was fairly consistent among an inconsistent defensive line. Given Orlando City’s defensive woes in 2016, there will be room for improvement, but the addition of Jose Aja did improve the back line. Hopefully, he’ll be back in purple next season.