Happy New Year, The Mane Land readers! 2017 has arrived and we all expect amazing things for Orlando City SC in Major League Soccer. After two seasons without making the playoffs, the Lions look forward to break this barrier in the year that has just started.
The front office is working hard on the transfer market to build a consistent roster and fill the gaps detected last year. One area of the team, though, seems pretty settled: the midfield. With several players retained and veteran Will Johnson recently signed, Head Coach Jason Kreis will have a hard time figuring out who the starters should be night after night.
The first decision to be made, however, is about the system. Kreis has a winning background at Real Salt Lake playing the 4-4-2 diamond, but Orlando City’s roster looks more suited to play on a 4-2-3-1, as there’s no obvious partner to Cyle Larin up front.
Whichever system is picked, Kreis will have to choose his starters from an interesting and cohesive list. Take a deeper look at the options available and help the coach with his decision:
Servando Carrasco – The San Diego native is probably the most defensive-minded midfielder of Orlando City’s roster. The 28-year-old joined the club during the 2015 season and averages two interceptions and 1.9 tackles per game, to go with a passing accuracy over 85%. Carrasco isn’t very effective offensively, though, notching four assists and no goals in 43 matches with the Lions.
Cristian Higuita – The 22-year-old Colombian is one of the most promising players of the Lions roster. Higuita is a workhorse at the DM position and averaged an impressive 3.9 tackles and 1.7 interceptions over the course of the last two seasons. Offensively, the South American can help with his mobility and his ability to shoot from distance.
Will Johnson – Orlando City’s most recent addition is a 29-year-old veteran and a two-time MLS champion, having won the league both in 2009 with Real Salt Lake, playing under Kreis, and 2015 with the Portland Timbers. Capable of playing both as a defensive midfielder or center midfielder, the Canadian works hard on defense (2.4 tackles and 1.3 interceptions per game since 2013), is a good passer (84.5% accuracy) and can score goals (19 over the last four seasons).
Antonio Nocerino – The former Italian National Team player was probably the most hyped signing of the Lions in 2016, but he didn’t live up to the expectations. After a slow start, Nocerino seemed to gain traction as a CM in the end of the season, even though he didn’t score goals of notch assists in 21 matches. His defensive numbers were not impressive too (1.7 tackles and 1.4 interceptions), but his passing efficiency was fine, at 81.4%.
Tony Rocha – The 23-year-old Texas native joined Orlando City for the second half of the 2016 season after starting the year with OCB in the USL. Rocha played eight MLS matches (six of them coming off the bench) and averaged 1.6 tackles and 0.6 interceptions. The DM’s most impressive number, though, was his 87.7% passing accuracy.
Kevin Molino – The Trinidadian came back strong in 2016, recording 11 goals and eight assists after missing most of the previous season due to a torn ACL in May. A two-time USL Pro MVP and champion, Molino is one of the most versatile attacking midfielders on the roster, being able to play in the center or both wings.
Matías Pérez García – The diminutive 5-foot-5 Argentinean playmaker was one of the few signings made after Kreis’ arrival in 2016. A very skilled center attacking midfielder, but also capable of playing on the wings, he recorded two assists in only 13 matches in 2016. Very talented and effective in set pieces, but also inconsistent, Pérez García will probably have more opportunities to show his best in the upcoming season.
Kaká – Orlando City’s No. 10, captain, and Designated Player, the 34-year-old Brazilian star is possibly entering his last year with the team. In 2016, he lost a portion of the season due to a muscle injury suffered when he was with Brazil’s National Team, but was able to score nine goals and add 10 assists over 24 matches. If Kreis goes with the diamond formation, Kaká could play as a second forward to save his legs.
Brek Shea – One of the most technically and physically gifted players of the Lions roster, Shea is yet to translate all his skills into productivity on the field. Frequently used as a left back, including with the United States Men’s National Team, the 26-year-old player from Texas is an option at left wing as well. In two seasons with Orlando City, Shea has three goals and six assists in 46 matches.
Carlos Rivas – A Young Designated Player, the Colombian uses his speed to create opportunities from the left wing. Also capable of playing as a forward, Rivas has recorded three goals and eight assists in 48 matches with Orlando City. With obvious talent and a lot of room for improvement at the age of 22, he could get more playing time in 2017 if he shows satisfactory progress.
What about you? Who would you pick for the starting lineup?
(Statistics via WhoScored.com)