Though thoughts and perceptions will always differ with any player from fan base to fan base, Antonio Nocerino’s time in Orlando has been far from easy. Poor performances and one specific verbal fight with some fans made the Italian midfielder even more unpopular than ever before following a dull 0-0 draw with Houston.
The feelings most Orlando City fans had upon his purchase, though not universal, seemed to be largely based on his ability to make a real difference in the team within his first few games. Fans of the Lions had expectations that perhaps exceeded the immediate ability of the former AC Milan squad member because of his involvement with legendary teams such as West Ham, Juventus, and Torino, to name a few.
The issue with players that have enjoyed any sort of a career in Europe is expectation that they'll land in the states and become an instant success. Fans, analysts, tacticians, and pundits often don't have the greatest respect for MLS, making the general population believe that leagues across the planet are organized in a horizontal manner; from best to worst.
This, however, couldn't be more untrue. Obviously, there are different tiers of quality; the South Korean third tier isn't quite the competition you'll find in the Premier League, but that doesn't mean the MLS is miles behind the big boys in Europe. Yes, most would agree the talent ceiling is higher, but MLS, just like any other league, has its own particular play style that it requires in order to be successful. Yet, even understanding that core concept, it was easy to dismiss Nocerino as a casualty of the crossover.
As stated before, his immediate impact was poor, and many fans saw the Italian as a washed-up European reject that came to Orlando to collect a paycheck. His performances reeked of indifference and his stats seemed to back that up. In addition, his intermittent involvement in the squad pushed the blasé narrative forward, further angering a passionate fan base. This led to a climax in mid-July when a fan and Nocerino had an intense conversation that happened to be recorded on video. Fast forward a few weeks, however, and you'll find that the former flop has made himself an integral part of Jason Kreis' plans.
Since the incident, Nocerino has settled into a deeper midfield position, constructing possession out of the back with an 86% pass completion rate, one of the highest on the team. And although most of his positive contributions cannot be seen through singular statistics, his consistent selection under the new coaching staff and appeasement of the fans is a more telling sign of success.
Antonio Nocerino may be a player who has spent the majority of his time trying to find a permanent place to ply his trade, never truly settling in, but his new lease on life under Jason Kreis may allow the journeyman midfielder to settle down and make a meaningful impact on a team that truly needs it.