Antonio Nocerino – just hearing the name probably makes you a bit sad or even angry. As one of the high-priced moves Orlando City made this off-season, the team expected much more from this play-making midfielder, especially working with Kaká, than what it has received to this point of the season. The idea of having another hard-working, talented international that could be a play-maker from a defensive midfield position was very tantalizing. To a team that came so close to making the playoffs last year, this may have been the missing piece to the puzzle.
We all know what happened next. The Italian has struggled to reach match fitness after a long layoff without a competitive game and is still trying to adjust to the style of game that is Major League Soccer. It's taking much longer than we thought it would. Don’t get me wrong, we’ve seen flashes of moments here and there. A rocket of a shot here, maybe a quick give and go there, winning an aerial challenge and starting the counter -- yet these were more diamonds in the rough, not the norm. This was not the player that roamed the pitch for AC Milan in the center midfield; this was a guy who sometimes looked lost, confused, and even worse, like he didn’t want to be here.
Then everything changed – the coach who may or may not have been using him properly was shown the door. In his place comes a coach in Jason Kreis who historically uses the 4-4-2 look, deploying that midfield diamond. What system did Nocerino come from? The diamond midfield that AC Milan uses so well.
Before we can even assume this is a match made in heaven for Nocerino, there are a few points to consider. First, we don’t know if Kreis will even deploy his preferred formation this year in league games and if he does, when it will happen. There are many other players on this roster that weren’t doing so badly in Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 system. He might just stick with that for now, time will tell.
Second, Nocerino is going to have to be willing to put the work in practice to show the new coach why he even deserves a shot. There is plenty of game tape out there of him giving up on plays, making lazy passes, taking cheap fouls, and much more. So in order to overcome this perception of a guy who doesn’t fit in, he needs to go back to work. Earning a coach’s trust in practice is the best way to get yourself back into the game.
And if the stars do align themselves, third, when he gets his chance, there can be no more pardons. Plenty of excuses have been floated around out there in defense of him: Major League Soccer is a more physical, less skill oriented league, it takes time to adjust to life in America, this is a different system, etc. When you are one of the highest paid players on a squad, you need to find ways to overcome those excuses. Sure, maybe a month or so of games to adjust is reasonable, but by now, he should have found his groove. Instead, all he’s found is the back end of the bench.
Still, this is a new era in Orlando City. Whether we can admit it or not, Antonio Nocerino was a good player on the other side of the Atlantic. There was a reason the top brass wanted to give him $650,000 to come play here; they expected another top level player. He’s not that old at 31, he’s a former captain to the Italian National Team – 2008 Beijing Olympics – and he possesses all the skills necessary to be a solid, if not better than that, MLS player.
It’s the beginning of a new era for Orlando City; will Antonio Nocerino be a part of it?