While young Uruguayan Jose Aja did not have the second season many expected in Orlando, there were moments that showed us what he is capable of. Playing a key role in a revamped back line with new addition Jonathan Spector, Aja looked all of the player he seemed after his winter transfer to the City Beautiful. Well, for two games at least.
Aja was a crucial element of Orlando’s two wins to open the season. Then came a poor performance in Columbus that ended with a substitution in the 43rd minute with a hamstring issue. Aja missed the next five games, only to return to start in a 4-0 drubbing by the Houston Dynamo. That loss was a significant sign that the club’s fortunes were turning for the worse after a solid start to the season. Aja would be in and out of the lineup until a five-game run from late June to early July. Aja only saw the field once in team’s last 11 games.
Orlando City was desperate to find the second part of a central defense pairing with Spector, with Aja being seen as the heavy favorite for the role. His season could be summarized by his lack of being able to lock that role down. Head Coach Jason Kreis rotated central defenders in and out next to Spector all season with none of them ever distancing themselves from the competition. Young Tommy Redding seems to still need time to grow into the role, Leo Pereira is already home in Brazil after an undistinguished loan spell, and Seb Hines was resurgent in his recovery from injury — but only to a point. It seems like a lot to hang on a 24-year-old defender, but had Aja been the player he was in the first two games, Orlando City’s season would have looked drastically different.
Aja played in 15 of the team’s 34 games this season (all starts), up from his 10 games played after transferring in mid-season. He did not record a goal or assist this season but took nine shots. One of those was on frame. He collected five yellow cards this season, and one significant red in a 4-0 loss at New England that theoretically ended his season as the Uruguayan would not even see the bench for the final seven games of the campaign.
Aja complied a passing rate of 78% this season, down from 83% last season.
Aja’s best game was also the first one of the season. His initial outing as the second half of a dynamic duo with Spector feels like the stuff of dreams now at the end of a season that began with such promise. The Uruguayan was active against a potent NYCFC attack, breaking up plays and providing outlet passes through his clearances. As the curtain raised on the season, it seemed that Orlando had worked all the defensive woes out in the off-season and this would be Orlando’s year, with Aja starting in the middle of the defense.
Final 2017 Grade
The Mane Land staff saw fit to give young Aja a solid composite rating of 5 for the season. The promise is there, but the frustrations are as well. That is reflected in that score. With the staff rating him between 4 and 6, there are still some questions about Aja’s quality this season which will undoubtedly lead to questions this off-season about his role with the club in 2018.
I’m not sure what not playing the final seven games of the season after a red card means from Kreis’ vantage point on the bench. It is safe to say it probably isn’t good though. Aja will have his work cut out for him in his effort to remove himself from Kreis’ dog house.
Aja signed a new four-year contract during the last off-season, meaning it is unlikely he will be shown the door during this one. Aja has youth, potential, and three years left on a contract so it is unlikely he will be gone before next season. At the same time, this is a team in full reboot after another disappointing season. Aja will have to own that disappointment and improve if he wants to continue a career in Orlando.
Off-season moves at nearly every position mean Orlando will be in the hunt for new players, potentially meaning added competition for Aja come next March.