During its first two years in MLS, Orlando City has had many well-known signings and others they hyped that were supposed to lead the team to the postseason. However, many of those signings have turned out poorly. But there's one that seems to be working out quite well.
Before the Lions kicked off in MLS, they had "Major Monday." First, they traded for Houston Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall. Then they made moves for defensive midfielder Amobi Okugo and Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin. The three acquisitions were supposed to make up three of the four players that would form the team's spine. However, shortly after the start of the 2016 season, all three were gone.
While the three players from "Major Monday" are no longer in Orlando, others remain but have been disappointments. Prior to the 2015 MLS season, Orlando City decided to use two Designated Player spots on young strikers that would be a part of the future of the club for years to come. Honduran Bryan Rochez and Colombian Carlos Rivas were brought in and were expected to make a difference from year one, even while they developed their game further. However, over a year later, Rochez has had several issues and is unable to even get on the team sheet most nights for the reserve team, Orlando City B. Rivas, who the club has tried unsuccessfully to turn into a winger, continues to sporadically get into the first team but has shown little improvement over the past year.
The most recent big signing by the club has largely received negative responses by fans as Antonio Nocerino has struggled in his first year in MLS. The midfielder, brought in from Italian giants AC Milan, has appeared to many to be nonchalant while playing, which has brought immense criticism on the player.
But, while there have been well known signings that haven't panned out, one potentially unexpected signing has turned out positively. On March 23, shortly after the start of the 2016 season, Orlando City signed former Brazilian international Julio Baptista. The former Real Madrid, Arsenal, and Roma player joined the club from Brazilian side Cruzeiro. But, at 34 years of age, many saw the player as well past his prime and too old to make much of a difference. Others saw it as a way to placate Baptista's former Brazilian teammate and Orlando City captain, Kaká.
Usually coming on as a late substitute for starting striker Cyle Larin, Baptista has recently made a habit of dramatically grabbing points for the Lions. His first goal came on May 29 in New York. Down 2-0 to New York City FC, Baptista scored in the 72nd minute to cut the lead in half. A last-second goal by Kevin Molino would seal a point for the Lions heading into the Copa America Centenario break.
Baptista then showed a tendency to save his team over the next two league games. First, against the San Jose Earthquakes, Baptista gave the Lions the lead in the 91st minute, though San Jose would equalize, resulting in a 2-2 final. A week later, he did it again. After receiving the ball on his chest in the 99th minute, the striker was pulled down by Toronto FC defender Drew Moor, resulting in a penalty. Kaká finished the spot kick, giving the Lions a 3-2 victory.
On Saturday night, with a dilapidated roster, Baptista was given the start by interim Head Coach Bobby Murphy. In the 14th minute, Baptista took a shot from the top of the box. While the goal was largely due to a deflection and poor goalkeeping by David Ousted, it gave the Lions a 1-0 lead. In the 59th minute, Baptista nearly gave the Lions the lead again. After Cyle Larin equalized shortly after halftime, Baptista showed flashes of his former self when he turned over Whitecaps defender Jordan Smith. The defender reached in, tripping the veteran striker, which earned the Lions a penalty. Despite sending the spot kick sailing over the bar, it was another example of Baptista making things happen.
While Baptista generally plays few minutes in the games in which he does appear, he tends to make the most of those minutes. Other big signings have flopped wearing the purple shirt, but Baptista has largely made a positive impact when on the field. It's been hard to find signings that have worked out well for Orlando City over the past two years but Julio Baptista is one that can be deemed successful.