Orlando City signed fullback Mikey Ambrose to a USL contract prior to the 2016 season, sending him to OCB with an eye on seeing the 23-year-old’s development this year. The El Paso, TX, native quickly established himself with the reserve side in Melbourne, seizing the starting left back spot and becoming one of OCB’s most dependable and dynamic players.
Ambrose played 18 games with Orlando City B and his presence helped 17-year-old Pierre Da Silva emerge as well. Though he didn’t score or register an assist with OCB, Ambrose was a threat down the left flank, sending in crosses and compiling nine shots of his own. He impressed enough for the MLS side to acquire his rights from FC Dallas and sign him on Aug. 4.
After sitting as an unused sub his first two matches with the MLS side, Ambrose got his first start at Colorado during a busy time of the season and helped the Lions to a 0-0 road draw. He then sat out the next four games before coming on as a second-half sub against Columbus. He finished the season by starting three of the final five games.
With veteran Luke Boden ahead of him on the depth chart, Ambrose appeared in only five matches with the MLS side in 2016, starting four of those games. In those matches, the University of Maryland product’s recovery speed and playmaking ability largely made up for his lack of first-team experience. He didn’t register a goal, assist, or even a shot in his 405 minutes of action. Instead, he focused primarily on playing a defense-first role and got forward when he could.
Ambrose averaged 0.6 tackles per match, with 1.2 interceptions, 0.4 blocks and 2.4 clearances. His clearances per game were fifth best, and just 0.4 behind Tommy Redding. He completed 75.1% of his passes and averaged 0.6 key passes per game. These aren’t surprising numbers considering he was largely learning to play with new teammates down the stretch while the 5-foot-9, 165-pound left back adjusted to the speed and physicality of MLS play.
On the plus side, Ambrose committed only four fouls — averaging only one per 100 minutes played — and was booked just once.
Ambrose received a player grade of 6 or better twice in his five appearances in 2016 — in his first and last game of the season. Although he played well in the 4-2 season-ending win over D.C. United, his best match was probably his MLS debut at Colorado on Aug. 20. He received a 6.5 rating from some guy with my name in the Orlando City player grades that night. As I wrote then:
Making his first MLS start, Ambrose played a solid if unspectacular game at left back. He handled the defensive end very well, getting into passing lanes, forcing his man back toward the top of the box, and grabbing a few key takeaways on the sideline. He was cautious going forward and didn’t involve himself much in the offense, but that’s OK. He is a defender first and an attacker second and tonight reflected that. He tied Jose Aja for the team high in interceptions (5), blocked two shots and connected on 82.7% of his passes. A bright start for Mikey.
Players who haven’t been on teams’ game films can sometimes surprise an opponent that isn’t sure how to attack him or defend against him. Teams did better against Ambrose after that initial outing in Colorado but, to his credit, he bounced back with one of his best performances in the final game.
2016 Final Rating
The Mane Land is giving Ambrose an incomplete grade for the 2016, as the young fullback had only five appearances and four starts to demonstrate his abilities. If you averaged up his individual game grades, you’d likely get somewhere between a 5.5 and a 6, which isn’t bad for a player getting his first handful of MLS games. He showed promise and demonstrated that, at the very least, he can be a capable backup for the senior side.
Ambrose is an intriguing player and we expect he’ll be back in 2017, possibly in a reserve role for Jason Kreis, but also with an opportunity to battle for the starting left back spot. His quickness and instincts are impressive and it will be important for Ambrose to not only work on developing his strengths, but also shoring up his weaknesses.
At his size, Ambrose will want to get stronger to avoid getting knocked around by bigger, more physical opponents. He will need to better read back post runners and avoid getting caught ball watching or having a defender cut across the box and beat him to aerial crosses. Early on, he did a good job of forcing attackers to play back toward their own goal, which is something he’ll want to continue to do moving forward.
At 23 years old, Ambrose still has time to make his mark in Major League Soccer, but the 2017 MLS season will be a pivotal one for the young Texan.