Few players drew more criticism in 2016 than Antonio Nocerino. Yeah, that’s a fun way to come running into this, huh?
Orlando City’s big off-season acquisition — if you feel so inclined to tag him as that — came into MLS with a bright spotlight on him due to controversy surrounding his arrival in Orlando. While D.C. United chased the Italian midfielder and held his discovery rights, the Lions reportedly committed tampered violations and negotiated with the midfielder. After settling with D.C., the Lions signed Nocerino.
Orlando City spent a lot of money for a player in a position where the club didn’t really need any help and forced him into the lineup. As you would imagine, when Nocerino — who hadn’t played a competitive match in months — got off to a disastrously slow start with the club, things got rough.
The 31-year-old Italian midfielder appeared in 21 games (19 starts) for Orlando City in 2016, playing over 1,500 minutes. He started in seven of the club’s first 10 games before former head coach Adrian Heath decided enough was enough and Nocerino appeared on the bench in each of the next seven. Under Jason Kreis, Nocerino was able to work back into favor and the starting lineup.
Nocerino wasn’t able to find the back of the net this season, and didn’t find any assists, either, but ripped off 11 shots (two on goal), and finished the year with an 81.4 percent passing accuracy (10th best on the team).
Defensively, Nocerino made 1.7 tackles per game, 1.4 interceptions, and 1.3 fouls according to WhoScored.com. Altogether, he fouled 27 times, saw three yellow cards, and was shown a straight red once. Nocerino was also suspended one game earlier in the season for entering the field of play to celebrate a goal against the New England Revolution.
It’s rather challenging to pick out Nocerino’s best game since 1) there weren’t any games in which he impacted the score directly, and 2) defensive midfielders tend to fly more under the radar in games compared to those on the back line or in the attacking front.
However, since we’re here to pick one, it could probably be said that Orlando City’s scoreless draw at Colorado in August was his best game of the year. WhoScored gave Nocerino his highest rating of the year for his performance in that game, and he was also The Mane Land’s Man of the Match, with our own Michael Citro writing:
The Italian continues to grow more confident as he sees more minutes and that is translating into instinctual running to spots where he knows he should be. He beat Doyle to a ball in the 42nd minute and earned a free kick. He hustled back on defense all night and still managed to be part of the attack. His two tackles, four interceptions and a clearance on defense paired nicely with his 86.9% passing accuracy, one key pass, one accurate cross and a shot (well off target, however). On a night where a lot of players turned in similarly solid performances, Nocerino’s two-way play and his team-high 78 touches earn him the nod from me.
2016 Final Rating
The Mane Land has graded Nocerino’s first season in Orlando as a 6. Nocerino was a very different player under Jason Kreis than under Adrian Heath. Who’s to say why exactly that might be, but by the time he was able to work back into the starting lineup he was much more adjusted to the league, club, and country than during the first half of the season.
It was clear it would take some time to adjust to those new settings after spending so much of his career playing in a much less physical league in Italy.
But the main point is that he rebounded and came back to quiet most of his doubters by the end of the season.
It’ll be very interesting to see which way this off-season goes. Nocerino is making upwards of $600,000, so it would be kind of difficult to move him, if that’s what Kreis and company wanted to do. But on the other hand, he became a favorite under Kreis and a dependable anchor in the deep midfield. He could, just maybe, become the bottom of the diamond next season, if that’s where things go under Kreis.
In other words, I expect Nocerino to be in Orlando next season and possibly be a key piece for the club in 2017.