Last year it was Tony Cascio who left a hole in the Orlando City midfield depth due to a back injury. This year, it was Pedro Ribeiro.
The last man standing from the Lions’ Expansion Draft selections, Ribeiro had high hopes entering the 2016 season after impressing in the defensive midfield. Perhaps the team’s most versatile player, Ribeiro could play anywhere in the midfield, at striker, or even — in an emergency — as a center back, a position he played in the USL.
After 18 games (eight starts) in 2015, producing two goals and two assists, the 26-year-old Ribeiro looked to finally become an MLS regular. But the Belo Horizonte, Brazil native appeared in only three matches in 2016, starting one, due to a wonky back that required surgery back in May and cost him the bulk of the season. It wasn’t until September that Ribeiro was back in full training and he did not appear for the team down the stretch.
Ribeiro played 152 minutes, going the full 90 in the opener against Real Salt Lake and making two substitute appearances before the injury. He played 27 minutes against Chicago and 35 at New York City FC, seeing action in the first three consecutive matches of the year. He fired four shots (two on target) but did not score a goal or record an assist. He committed six fouls, was offside once, and received one yellow card (against RSL).
He completed 78.1% of his passes and averaged one key pass per game. His 2.7 tackles per game was good for second on the team, although in an obviously small sample size, and he averaged 1.3 interceptions and 0.7 clearances per game, so he was involved on the defensive end.
Although he got a slightly higher grade against New York City FC (in 35 minutes off the bench), I’m going with his full 90 against Real Salt Lake in the season opener — a 2-2 draw, thanks to Adrian Winter’s goal at the death. Here’s what I wrote about him back on March 6:
As we've seen throughout the preseason, Ribeiro seems like a different player at defensive midfield. He's confident, comfortable and reads the play better without having his back to goal. He connected well with his midfield partners and probably should have drawn more fouls but Chris Penso wasn't interested in RSL's continuous obstruction while he was in possession. Made some unnecessarily complicated passes at times, and crushed a ball on target off a set piece that forced a great save by Nick Rimando. A promising start to the season for Ribeiro, who led the team with four tackles won. Hs four fouls committed was tied with Hines for the team high, and he'll feel harshly done by Penso, who allowed RSL players to put hands on him several times, especially early.
2016 Final Rating
The Mane Land is giving Ribeiro an incomplete for the 2016 MLS season due to appearing in only three games and dressing for just a few more. A new role seemed to have rejuvenate Ribeiro during the preseason and heading into the MLS campaign, but his back injury derailed things for the Brazilian, which was unfortunate. It would have been interesting to have seen what he could do over the course of the year.
Much of this is dependent upon how healthy Ribeiro’s back truly is, but I don’t hold out much hope for the No. 4 overall 2014 MLS Expansion Draft selection to remain with the club. If he is 100% healthy and has a low chance of his back problems cropping up again, Ribeiro isn’t a bad guy to keep around. As mentioned above, he’s an extremely versatile player who can fill in at multiple positions and is a good option on set pieces with his 6-foot-4 frame. At $63,000 guaranteed salary, he doesn’t cost much. Ribeiro is the perfect MLS depth player — again, if healthy.
But back problems are not things that generally go away, and I believe we’ve seen Pedro with Orlando City for the last time.