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2017 Orlando City Season in Review: Tony Rocha

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The young midfielder had a promising camp derailed by injuries and never really got back into the mix.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Toronto FC John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Entering his first full season on an MLS contract, Tony Rocha was creating a bit of a buzz in preseason training camp. He was playing well, getting minutes, and showing versatility by playing both fullback and midfield. Everything seemed to be coming up Rocha.

But then something happened that is a killer for unproven players — he sustained a hamstring injury in the final preseason game. When Rocha finally became healthy again, he had to start all over regaining his game fitness and form, but by that time he was at Orlando City B and the MLS side had moved on and settled into a player rotation. Before he could give Jason Kreis something else to think about in regard to that rotation, Rocha reinjured his hammy. It was, as Rocha said earlier this year, a frustrating time for him.

“It’s definitely been a frustrating year for me,” Rocha said. “I worked to get back into full health, and I did. I progressed through OCB, getting minutes there and getting back into the swing of games and everything, got a chance with the first team, played against D.C., get my confidence back and then pulled my hamstring again.”

Ultimately, Rocha never really was able to make a mark on Orlando City in 2017 and seemed almost like a guest player with OCB at times.

Statistical Breakdown

The Spring, TX, native was on the MLS team sheet seven times but appeared in only three MLS matches — all off the bench — for a total of 25 minutes played in 2017. He didn’t score a goal but he did register his first career assist in his 17 minutes off the bench against D.C. United on May 31. He attempted no shots and committed one foul (which earned him a yellow card). He completed just 60% of his passes, which is a tough way to earn more playing time, as only Joe Bendik (55.8%) had a worse completion percentage.

Defensively, Rocha averaged 0.3 tackles per game, with no clearances or interceptions. This is due mainly to the fact that he only played 25 minutes and 17 of those came in one game in which he replaced an attacking midfielder.

At the USL level, Rocha played in 14 games (13 starts) for a total of 1,068 minutes. He posted a solid passing rate of 87.1% — the second best percentage on the young Lions by any player with more than 25 attempts — on 668 attempts, which was the ninth-most passes of anyone on the squad this season. That’s not bad for someone who only played in half the USL matches. He attempted just eight shots, getting one of them on target, and did not score a goal. He registered one assist on 13 key passes, tying for fifth among all OCB players in chances created.

Best Game

It’s pretty easy to point out Rocha’s best match of 2017 in MLS. On May 31, the 24-year-old played a season-high 17 minutes off the bench — replacing Matias Perez Garcia — in a 2-0 win over D.C. United. In that match, he registered his first MLS assist by setting up a Giles Barnes rocket that really should have been stopped by Bill Hamid, but it slipped through the keeper’s hands and into the goal. It was just a simple give-and-go with Barnes, but those are the kinds of quick, intricate passes that often create space for shots just like this one.

In addition to the assist, Rocha completed all four of his pass attempts in the game, creating two chances. He registered no defensive statistics.

2017 Final Grade

Just like last season, Rocha gets an incomplete on his final season report card. There was simply too small a sample size to get a sense of his value. After getting eight games and two starts in 2016, the Texan managed only three relief appearances, totaling 25 minutes, which is never going to be enough to judge a player on over the course of a season.

2018 Outlook

Last year, our Austin David wrote,

There's no reason to think that Rocha is not in the future plans of Orlando City. Obviously, Jason Kreis and the coaching staff think highly enough of both Rocha and Mikey Ambrose to bring them up from OCB to the MLS team. The Lions have predicated themselves on growing their young players since joining MLS and Rocha is a prime example of that. Expect him to have a bit of a bigger role as a reserve player than this past year.

That obviously didn’t happen, and at this point it’s fair to ask if it ever will. Rocha seems a versatile and valuable depth player, but it’s fair to say that he needed to show more at Orlando City B to get more playing time with the first team. Even though the Lions had a crowded defensive midfield with the likes of Antonio Nocerino, Will Johnson, Cristian Higuita, and Servando Carrasco, it’s not like any of them distinguished themselves as being irreplaceable in 2017. It’s possible Rocha is a proverbial ‘tweener,’ playing well enough to control games in the USL but not quite up to the task of getting regular playing time in MLS.

Maybe he can change that narrative in Orlando City’s 2018 preseason training camp.


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