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Return of Rafael Ramos a Welcome Sight for Orlando City

After two months out, Rafael Ramos is close to returning for Orlando City and will be a welcome addition.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After playing two games with Orlando City B, right back Rafael Ramos is nearly ready to return and provide Orlando City with some much-needed defensive depth.

Defense has been a problem for Orlando City all season. With attacking players like Kaká, Kevin Molino, and Cyle Larin, the Lions’ ability to score has never been in question. But keeping opponents off the board has been an issue all year.

When Jason Kreis took over for Adrian Heath on July 19, the Brek Shea at left back experiment came to an end. Taking his place was backup left back Luke Boden. However, for the great seasons he had in USL, Boden has shown that he lacks the ability to be a regular starter in MLS.

On Aug. 4, Orlando City took a step toward solidifying its defensive depth by acquiring the rights to OCB left back Mikey Ambrose and subsequently signing him to an MLS contract. Despite the signing of the 22-year-old defender, the Lions still struggle at the back and still lack depth, particularly at right back.

Prior to the 2016 MLS season, Orlando City acquired Kevin Alston from the New England Revolution to join Ramos at the right back position. Additionally, the Lions had Tyler Turner, who shared the same natural position, getting minutes with OCB. But things quickly turned sour.

Turner was sent off with a second yellow card on June 11 against the Charleston Battery for a misguided disagreement following what he perceived to be a dive by Ricky Garbanzo. Turner was suspended for two games (one for the red card and one for yellow card accumulation) following the incident. When he returned, he found that Zach Hayden had replaced him as Anthony Pulis' starting right back.

Meanwhile, Ramos had his own trouble staying on the field. The right back was injured on May 21 in a game against the Montreal Impact. He returned to the starting lineup for the team's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers but was replaced during the first half for re-injuring that hamstring.

With Shea no longer a defender and Turner seemingly far from the first team, Ramos' two recent appearances with the USL side are a welcome sign for Orlando City fans. His first appearance since his Open Cup injury came last week in a game against the Richmond Kickers in Melbourne. Starting at his usual position, Ramos played the entire first half before being replaced by Turner.

“I was delighted with Rafa,” OCB Head Coach Anthony Pulis said following the game. “I thought he put a good 45-minute shift in. That was always going to be the plan his first game back after a while out. Get minutes out and I was pleased with him.”

Saturday night, this time in Richmond, Ramos started again and played 60 minutes. A little timid in his first appearance back, Ramos showed the attacking prowess Orlando City fans have become accustomed to from the Portuguese player.

If Ramos is ready to return to the first team — and it looks as though he's close — it will be a big boost for the Lions. One of Alston's greatest attributes is his versatility, as he can play both on the right and on the left. However, Ramos' absence has forced him to start on the right with no other options available. Even with Ambrose having joined the team, this has weakened Orlando City's depth.

It's still unknown when Ramos will be ready to return to the first team and be capable of playing significant minutes. But with Orlando City in a race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, his return can't come soon enough for the purple-clad Lions.