It appears Jason Kreis liked what he saw from Uruguayan defender José Aja in 2016. Orlando City signed the 23-year-old center back to a four-year deal, which would make him a Lion through 2020.
Aja, a 6-foot-4 native of Montevideo, Uruguay, appeared in 10 matches (nine starts) with the Lions after joining the club on loan from Racing Club de Montevideo on July 21. He played 830 minutes, mustering only one shot on goal, committing 16 fouls, and picking up four yellow cards.
But the physical defender also paired with David Mateos to improve Orlando’s defense down the season’s final stretch. He played 90 minutes eight times in the team’s last nine games of 2016 and the team was 4-3-2 with Aja in the lineup.
“We are excited to keep José in Orlando. He proved to be a great player and strong asset for our team in a short period of time,” Lions General Manager Niki Budalic said in a club press release. “We look forward to his continued contributions in 2017.”
Aja was part of three of Orlando City’s five clean sheets – at Colorado, Toronto and Philadelphia. Prior to joining the Lions, he appeared in 12 of 15 matches in Racing’s Primera División Clausura campaign, scoring two goals and adding an assist.
The Mane Land staff gave Aja a composite grade of 6.25 out of 10 for his performance in Orlando City purple in 2016. His best performance was in the Lions’ 2-1 win over New York City FC on Aug. 28.
With his youth, size, and physicality, it appears Aja is an important part of Orlando City’s plans for the back line. He may be starting opposite a new signing when the 2017 season opens in March.