It’s no secret that Orlando City’s back line has had issues over the last two years. The defensive aspect of the back line has been the main focus, giving up 60 goals in the 2016 season and struggling to maintain late game leads or giving up multiple goals. As Head Coach Jason Kreis has come in and tried to work with the defense, he has started to bring in players that he feels can help with these issues, such as Donny Toia and Will Johnson.
However, looking past the defensive usage of the back line, it’s also important to think about the attacking prowess the defense can bring. One of the aspects of a defender that former Lions boss Adrian Heath always liked in a center back is their on-ball skill. It was not only the player’s ability to maintain control of the ball, but also their ability to translate defense into offense and start a counter attack or to make key passes to start attacks going forward.
Currently, the Lions have Jose Aja, Tommy Redding, Conor Donovan, Seb Hines and David Mateos as their choice of central defenders on the roster. When the roster was put together, Heath wanted center backs that would work as foils to each other. Essentially, with the two on the field, one would be a “ball-winner” and the other a distributor. Aja and Hines would be considered the “ball-winning” center backs, while Mateos and Redding would be considered the distributors. Defensively, Redding is solid, reads the game well, and does an excellent job marking attackers, but his game in transitioning into the offensive side is still developing. Mateos is kind of the opposite: he’s sometimes slow to react defensively and has trouble marking, but does a decent enough job reading the field and putting balls from the defense into dangerous spots in the attacking third to start an attack.
For the 2017 season, Orlando will need to find that central defender that can read both sides of the ball, can help start the attack, and can also track back and shut down opposing team's chances. A player like the rumored Gregory Sertic from Bordeaux would be an ideal fit, due to a lot of his field time being spent as a defensive midfielder. Having that experience in midfield and the quick footwork it entails would be all the more beneficial for the attack going forward, helping set up more goals for Cyle Larin, Kaká, Kevin Molino, and others.
If not Sertic, which the deal doesn’t seem likely at this point, then Orlando needs that one central defender that can fill that role and Kreis is still on the hunt for that missing piece.
“We’ve still got one major hole that we’re trying to address and haven’t quite addressed that yet, but we’re certainly hopeful and resolute that we’ll have that situation sorted out real soon,” he said last week in Los Angeles.
With players reporting for medicals on Jan. 21, “real soon” can’t come soon enough.